Among economists and business strategists, the conviction is growing that the first 100 years of the new millennium will belong to the Pacific. China is spending hundreds of billions of dollars to bring living standards in the world’s most populous nation closer to those in the West— expanding its economy by 10 per cent a year. In its shadow, half a dozen so-called little dragons are also developing, from the Korean Peninsula south to Indonesia. To Canadian lawyer Olivia Lee (UBC, class of ’90), that represents opportunity. “As Hong Kong becomes a financing platform for China, and Chinese entities buy into Hong Kong companies,” says the 34-year-old lawyer, “there is a shortage of lawyers.”
The opportunity is particularly good for Canadians. Now a member of the Hong Kong Law Society and a partner in the firm of Osler Hoskin Harcourt, Lee notes that “investors don’t trust Chinese lawyers, not yet.” Instead, most seek out lawyers trained in the West to work alongside their Shanghaior Beijing-based counsel. At the same time, the growing number of investment ties across the Pacific has produced a surge in demand for legal services. Among Lee’s files has been an initial public offering on the Toronto Stock Exchange of shares in a Philippine-owned mining company,
as well as several private placements and advice to investors in joint ventures with partners from inside the People’s Republic. With all that is going on in Asia, notes Lee, “there is a high demand for common-law-trained lawyers in securities, commercial and corporate finance.”
Beyond giving legal advice to investors, Canadians are also taking a hand in the drive to reform civil rights and political law. From her desk at Toronto’s Stikeman Elliott, Lois Chiang gives pro bono time to support groups in China that are pressing for improved protection for women. Four months after graduating from the University of Toronto law school in 1995, Chiang attended the United Nations conference on the status of women in Beijing, coming away persuaded that “there is common ground” on the issue. But, she adds, “the system is so new there that I have had to start just trying to get people to understand basic definitions, such as discrimination against women and why it is wrong for women to bear the burden of economic reform.” Like Lee in Hong Kong, Chiang is optimistic about China’s progress. Similar confidence for the long term, salted with a degree of caution, prevails for much of the rest of the Asia-Pacific region. It is an outlook full of promise for Canadian lawyers with a yen to participate in the coming Pacific century.
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