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2008 IILACE Annual Conference, Namibia

Access to Legal Services


The Affordability of Lawyers and the Growth of Advice Deserts:
The Hong Kong Experience
Presentation by Raymond HO,
Secretary General,
The Law Society of Hong Kong

I.

Overview of Hong Kong Legal Services

One Country Two Systems


1997, the Basic Law
Common law system retained
Court of Final Appeal the final appellant Court
English and Chinese are the official languages
Facts & Figures of the legal profession
Divided profession 6,000 practising solicitors/1,000 barristers.
Right of Higher Audience to be extended by legislation to solicitoradvocates.
Regional legal service hub for cross-border/cross-boundary legal
services 1,000 registered foreign lawyers from over 20
jurisdictions are practising their home jurisdiction and
international law in Hong Kong.
Of the Am-100 mega law firms, 52 are in Hong Kong and 30 of
them are localised as Hong Kong firms of solicitors
Total Gross Fees about US$1.5 billion a year (0.5-0.6 of the Hong
Kong GDP) i.e. US$250,000 each solicitor on average a year.

Legal fee charges


Usually on time cost basis for litigation ranging from US$200 to
US$550 per hour for solicitors. Barristers charged for briefs and
refreshers.
Costs awarded by court usual on the basis of costs follow
event, i.e. the loser bears the legal costs (to be taxed if not agreed)
of the winning party.
Contingency or conditional fees for litigation not permitted in
Hong Kong. (Law Reform Commission Report on Conditional Fee
July 2007)
II. Legal Aid
Government funded legal aid for civil and criminal cases by the
Legal Aid Department subject to the means test and merits test.
Means test set at yearly income level of about US$20,000.
The estimate for expenditure by the Legal Aid Department in 2008-2009 is
HK$758.9 million (almost US$100 m), i.e. HK$100 per head (or US$12.5) of the
population of about 7-8 million in Hong Kong.

Criminal
Hong Kong Bill of Rights (ICCPR) legal representation be
provided by the Government to a person facing criminal
prosecution, if he or she has insufficient financial means.
Duty Lawyer Service a Government subsidised scheme jointly
administered by The Law Society and the Bar Association to
provide pleas and defence representation in all magistrates courts.
Touting for criminal legal services virtually disappeared.
Civil
Subject to means and merits tests, legal aid for human rights cases,
judicial reviews generally granted

Supplementary legal aid for civil claims by victims of personal


injuries 10% share of the compensation recovered to be shared
with the Legal Aid Department self-funded a form of
conditional fee arrangement.
Touting by recovery agents no win, no charge.
Litigation trafficking, champerty and maintenance are common
law crimes in Hong Kong.
Pilot Scheme on ADR Mediation for family cases, building
management cases etc.
III.

Supply of and demand for Legal services

Government commissioned consultancy study


Nature and perceptions of difficult-to-solve problems by
individuals and SMEs mostly cases under the jurisdiction of the
Small Claims Tribunal or Labour Tribunal where no legal
representation is permitted.
Many of these problems are not just legal problems.
Rising number of unrepresented litigants in Court.
Emergence of recovery agents for victims of personal injuries at
work or in accidents trafficking in litigation as financiers for
no win, no charge civil claims for the recovery of compensations
to these victims.
Government funded legal representation and services Legal Aid,
Duty Lawyer Service, Free Legal Advice and Tel-law schemes.
Pro bono services by lawyers
The Law Society runs the 45 minute free legal consultations
participated by over 100 firms listed on www.choosehklawyer.org
Other programmes -Building Management legal advisory services
etc.

Information on law and legal services


Practice Promotion Code for solicitors - Promotion by barristers
not permitted.
No Specialist accreditation in Hong Kong
User- friendly services by the Government departments in the
internet or publications e.g. Intellectual Property Department,
Company Registry; and by the Judiciary such as the Resources
Centre for unrepresented litigants.
Publicly available legal information www.hklii.org for instance
on judgments and legislation- promotes public awareness of the
law; but not as substitutes for legal advice.
IV.

Realities and Possible Solutions

Private practice rising operating costs pro bono services by


private practitioners are inevitably limited.
The tension between the need of attracting the best legal talent to
the profession and the notion that the privilege to practise law
carries with it the obligation to serve is real and relevant.
It is the basic responsibility of the Government for maintaining
the rule of law and allocating its resources appropriately and
effectively on legal aid and other publicly funded schemes to meet
this responsibility.
Public education and public awareness of legal rights and
responsibilities may partially be a solution to the problem of the
advice desert.
Community legal services or advisory centres subsidised by the
Government funding with professions from various disciplines,
not just lawyers, may help citizens on early settlements of disputes
and deal with the difficult to solve problems.
(Revised -3 October 2008- 2008 IILACE Annual Conference, Namibia Access to Legal Services - The Affordability of Lawyers and the Growth of Advice Deserts: The
Hong Kong Experience by Raymond HO, Secretary General, and the Law Society of Hong Kong)