Keynote Address by Mr Wong Yan-Lung, GBM, SC (Guest of Honour)

Mr Wong Yan-Lung, GBM, SC (Guest of Honour)
黃仁龍資深大律師 (主禮嘉賓)

Professor Young, Members of the University, Ladies and Gentlemen:

  1. Congratulations to all of you, Graduands. You have completed your degrees and survived the past four years of arduous studies, which were battered by vagaries unprecedented in the history of Hong Kong.

  2. Let me be honest. I did hesitate in accepting Professor Fu’s invitation to speak today.

  3. I spoke on the same occasion at the wonderful Loke Yew Hall on 18 November 2006 – about one year into my office as Secretary for Justice – when life was a lot simpler. I cannot possibly repeat what I said 16 years ago. And these days, I have been giving talks more on mental health, as opposed to the law.

  4. But then I bumped into a young barrister of Temple Chambers in the lift. She said “I am very excited with the trial coming up next week”. I found that really refreshing, because many of us preparing for an imminent trial tend to frown or sigh.

  5. I decided to ask a few more barristers in chambers, of different vintage, for things they might like to say to law graduates. I got some answers and felt encouraged to come.

  6. So, for today, if there is anything I say that you may find useful, credit goes to those fellow barristers who have kindly refreshed me with their thoughts.

  7. Mind you, if the combined time spent were billable by our respective hourly rates, Professor Fu would regret inviting me.

    The Billable Hour

  8. That leads me to an article in the Financial Times in April this year written by Tim Harford. The title is “The billable hour is a trap”. It was referred to me by another young barrister in Temple, who also shared with me the following personal observation:

    “There are many hours in life that can never be billed. … those hours can be just as (if not more) valuable in the long term and should still be recorded, …”.

  9. The FT article points out many lawyers are rich but miserable, and traces the unhappiness to the “billable hour”. It says:

    “The whole framework of the billable hour makes it feel naggingly expensive to do anything non-billable”.

  10. The author also warns that because of the billable hour, lawyers would focus on narrow short-term goals rather than broader or deeper values such as maintaining skills, mentoring young colleagues, or living up to the highest ideals of the law.

  11. Very soon most of you will be entering the legal profession, and those joining the law firms will be caught by the billable hour regime. Barristers likewise, although the billable unit will be by the hour rather than the 6-minute increment.

  12. This article reminds me of something said by CS Lewis. Lewis said “only lazy people work hard”. It sounds paradoxical but the older you get, the more you will agree with this insightful comment.

  13. We may be super hardworking according to the time sheets or fee notes. But we may, in fact, be super lazy in life generally. We fail to diligently find out what really are essential apart from work, career or money. We dodge and procrastinate on all other non-billable subjects: sometimes important things like our health, our mental health, and sometimes people near us, especially people needing our care and attention.

  14. We are lazy in not disciplining ourselves to make important choices. We just react to whatever is urgent coming our ways. We fail to look out for what direction we should go, or what values we should cultivate. Our daily routine built on a billable framework drives us like slaves.

  15. No wonder many lawyers are miserable. I have heard from at least three very successful senior counsel complain of this curse:

    “Cursed when you have work; cursed when you don’t have work”.

  16. So, young lawyers, be warned. Don’t fall into this trap. Draw the boundaries now. Mark out important things that stay completely outside the billable framework. Guard them ruthlessly. And start the discipline from the beginning of your working life. Trust me, you will enjoy a lot more freedom and happiness in due course.

  17. In Matt Damon’s 1997 movie “The Rainmaker”, after winning a massive claim against an insurance company, the underdog lawyer got famous but abandoned his lucrative legal practice to teach law. He said “if success and monetary rewards had overtaken, I would have become another shark in the dirty waters”. This line is sobering, lest we are at risk of becoming great white sharks in Hong Kong waters. Don’t let the billable hour blind you to everything else except the dollar sign.

  18. Don’t let the billable hour coach you to cut corners. Hone your skills even when the extra time is not billable. Think not just in terms of the aggregate of the minutes clocked, but in terms of the content or weight in each minute you contribute.

  19. Don’t let the billable hour lock you up in “curses”. Turn the curses into blessings: Blessed are you when you have work – and do it with all your heart. Blessed are you when you don’t have work – because you have more time to catch up with other important things that have been squeezed out by the billable things.

    The higher calling of the law

  20. When time is more valuable than money, you had better spend it wisely.

  21. Let there be no doubt, the legal profession is consuming. If you immerse yourself into it, you had better search out and hold on to some solid reasons as to why it is worth investing your life into it.

  22. But if I ask you to take out the dollar sign, the social status, and perhaps the intellectual challenge, what is it about the legal profession that attracts you? What is the real purpose of it all? What makes you proud to be in this “vocation” as opposed to calling it an “occupation”? What is it about the legal practice that gives you a sense of excitement, delight and even hope? So that you do not mind, day after day, burning the midnight oil on the papers, and swallowing the bitter pill of the court room pressure?

  23. Earlier this month, the Hong Kong Federation of Youth Groups published the results of a survey in May on over 1,000 young people (aged between 15 and 34). It is sad to hear that 46.9% are pessimistic about the future development of Hong Kong and only 17.5% are optimistic.

  24. The “core values” that these young people would most like to be realized in Hong Kong are “freedom” (59.7%), “democracy” (41%) and “the rule of law” (35.9%).

  25. The past few years have driven all of us to ask very heart-searching questions as to what “freedom”, “democracy” and “the rule of law” really mean, and how these values interact with each other, and how they may be inter-dependent.

  26. GK Chesterton, an English writer and philosopher, used the analogy of a “fence” in the discussion of reforms[1]. He said,

    “There exists in such a case a certain institution or law; let us say, for the sake of simplicity, a fence or gate erected across a road. The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and says, ‘I don’t see the use of this; let us clear it away.’ To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: ‘If you don’t see the use of it, I certainly won’t let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it.”

  27. As lawyers, we, more than anyone else, are better placed to understand why we need the law to provide the necessary framework, with boundaries and signposts, that allows real freedom to be realized.

  28. The world, China and Hong Kong have all moved on with the times. And the times are without parallel. Just look at the lingering pandemic plaguing the world, the Ukraine war shattering families and complacency, the ever-increasing tension between the East and the West, the deepening global food, energy and debt crises, on top of worsening climate change and aggravating economic, racial and social divisions.

  29. We are used to the notion of “protecting” rights and freedoms, which tends to focus on the risk of erosion and the need to defend. However, youthe new generation of Hong Kong lawyers, be proactive, consider how you can help “realize” our cherished rights and freedoms to be enjoyed by the community at large, in the new national and international order of the day.

  30. As ever, legal boundaries need to be more clearly marked, signposts need to be more clearly set out, grey areas need to be cleared up, and the fine details of the law need to be elucidated by legal arguments and court judgments. Lawyers and the Court have crucial roles to play.

  31. The majority of the non-permanent judges of the Court of Final Appeal have come out to say that:

    “at a critical time in the history of Hong Kong, it is more than ever important to support the work of its appellate courts in their task of maintaining the rule of law and reviewing the acts of the executive” [2].

  32. The continual service of these top jurists in the CFA will be the most compelling endorsement that Independent Judiciary remains firmly intact as the cornerstone of Hong Kong.

  33. There is still a high calling for lawyers in Hong Kong today and beyond.

  34. However, as you start your legal practice, being faithful to the rule of law is more likely to mean completing your run-of-the-mill files or cases faithfully to the best of your ability. The law, like medicine, if applied well, can make life better for those in need.

  35. I had the privilege to work with the late Charles Ching SC as his junior in a number of cases. Charles (one of our former CFA Permanent Judges) was famous for his brilliance as a cross-examiner. But few probably know how hard he worked in preparation. One late evening when we were going through the evidence, I asked Charles, who was then in his 50’s, what kept him going and working so hard when he was already at the pinnacle of his career. Charles took a sip of whisky and said:

    “It is no ordinary work; it is a privilege and a great responsibility: your clients have entrusted some of the most important things in life with you.”

  36. In a speech he gave in Hong Kong, Chief Justice Roberts of the US Supreme Court said when he looked out of the window of the Mandarin Hotel to see the high-rise buildings, he was amazed not just by the physical architecture, but also by the legal architecture underneath. What he meant was the legal expertise in the drafting of the complex contracts, in the closing of financing deals, and even in the resolutions of the unavoidable disputes – the very capability and infrastructure we have to make Hong Kong one of the premier financial centres of the world.

  37. In my own limited experience, I can say, although it does not always happen, there are times when you know that justice is on your side, or, more accurately, you are on the side of justice.

  38. When you pick up a piece of key evidence to clinch your case, confront a dishonest witness with some undeniable facts, demolish skewed arguments of your opponents, or when the judge delivers a judgment that vindicates, or when the appellate court overturns an incorrect judgment, when those in the wrong are penalized, and when society is protected against many a vice or abuse …, you experience being part of something higher than all human endeavours in the court room combined. Justice shines like the noonday sun – very warm and warming indeed.

  39. Of course, there are times when you struggle as you seem to find yourself on the bleak opposite side. That is where your competence, and more importantly, your integrity, as a lawyer is put to stringent tests.

  40. There and particularly there, do you need to be firm and unyielding to expediency. Before going to court, give your client the best and honest advice after exhausting the factual and legal research, impress upon your client that the law is about “give and take”, about being “proportional”, and counsel your client not to expect or ask for more than what the law permits.

  41. In court, formulate the best and most respectable arguments without crossing the boundaries, assert the maximum that can legitimately be put forward but not beyond, and insist on discharging your duties to cite relevant cases and disclose relevant documents even if against your client’s case.

  42. So that at the end of the day, even if your side loses the case, you do not lose the respect of your client, of your opponent and of the Court. So that in discharging your duties faithfully, you contribute to the higher justice system and answer the higher calling as a lawyer.

  43. Have faith in the law and the legal system that you are trained in. You can still derive great satisfaction in practicing law and doing justice.

    Be lawyers of steel quality

  44. We are and shall continue to be bombarded with very different opinions in the media on the status and future of Hong Kong’s legal environment, which may or may not reflect the reality.

  45. More immediately, when you enter the real working world, you will definitely come across people who hold very different views from yours, sometimes very polarized ones.

  46. I encourage you to subject every view, including your own view, to rigorous “fact checks”. Be “lawyerly”, do your research and test the assertions or verdicts against the evidence.

  47. Faced with unwarranted criticisms, prove them wrong by doing what is right rather than just talking back.

  48. However, remember not all criticisms are unwarranted. Try not to be too “lawyerly” at times. When you or your views are challenged, don’t always insist on playing the role of the opponent in our adversarial system. Suppress your pride to open your mind, listen carefully and pay attention, you cannot always be right.

  49. In the New York Times of 12 June this year there was a very helpful article by Tish Harrison Warren called “11 Small Ways You Can Help Mend the World”. One of the ways suggested is to “Make a steel man of others’ arguments”. Warren said:

    “Making a straw man of our opponents’ arguments is easy. We portray them as ridiculous … , but dealing with steel men – that is, the best and smartest ideas of those of whom we disagree – not only strengthens our own thinking but helps us to better and more compassionately understand others. … Choosing to seek out the best arguments of those with whom we disagree requires humility and curiosity, and it makes the healthier societal discourse.”

  50. Refine the “steel” in your legal mind and legal skills, and strive to preserve integrity, the true “steel” in a person. Truthfulness coupled with competence and diligence bring out the most important service we lawyers can offer to the client, the system and the community.


  51. According to authoritative interpretations, President Xi has just given us an assurance that “One Country Two Systems”, including our common law system, will continue beyond 2047.

  52. In the next 25 years and beyond, Hong Kong and our common law legal system will continue to develop and evolve.

  53. Ladies and gentlemen, so will you. Don’t dwell on the past. Embrace the gift of the present. Get excited by what the flow of life will offer you next.

  54. Hold firmly to the law you have learned and the values you have come to cherish. We look to and depend on the reliability and resilience of our legal system to help Hong Kong develop and evolve, and to do so in accordance with the principles of justice and fairness enshrined in the law.

  55. The quality of the people involved in the daily contribution and dispensation of justice in our legal system is of utmost importance.

  56. There are close to 200 graduands today. Your cohort will become a significant contingent of our future legal force. And with all the new incentives and opportunities, you are better placed than those before you to contribute to the legal development of China. The next 25 years will be the prime time of your legal career. The next 25 years will also be decisive for the future of “One Country Two Systems” beyond 2047.

  57. How you run on the paths set before you will affect not just you, but also the good and the future of Hong Kong – this remarkable city we call our home and a place we dearly love. So run in such a way that you, and we together, may all attain.

  58. Many congratulations again, and may the Lord bless you all.

[1] “The Drift from Domesticity” (1929)
[2] Joint Statement to AFP of 5 Non-Permanent Judges from UK



1. 首先恭喜各位畢業生。過去四年,香港種種前所未見的變化,令本已費力的學業更為艱辛,但你們都熬過了,完成了學位。

2. 說句老實話,當院長傅教授邀請我來致詞時,我猶豫了。

3. 2006 年 11 月 18 日,當時我擔任律政司司長一年左右,在宏麗的陸佑堂向法律畢業生致詞,現在回看當時的世界委實簡單得多。我不可能重複十六年前的講稿,而最近我的講辭大多關於精神健康,而非法律。

4. 後來我在電梯裡碰到了天博大律師事務所 的一位年輕大律師,她正為著下週的審訊而感到十分興奮。為此我覺得眼前一亮,因為當要預備迫在眉睫的審訊時,大部份的大律師不是皺眉,就是嘆息。

5. 於是我決定再問問事務所其他不同年資的大律師,看看他們對法律畢業生會有什麼贈言,他們的答案鼓勵我接受傅教授的邀請。

6. 所以今天,假如你認為我將要說的內容對你有益,功勞要歸於那幾位大律師同事給我如沐春風的建議。

7. 不過,如果要照我們各自酬金和所耗時間向大學收費,傅教授一定會後悔邀請我來。


8. 這讓我想到了今年 4 月《金融時報》由Tim Harford 撰寫的文章《計費工時是陷阱》,事務所另一位年輕大律師介紹我讀這篇,並且分享他個人感受:

「人生中有很多時間無法以收費多少來衡量 …… 但長遠來看,這些無法計算費用的時間同樣有價值(甚至是更高的價值),應該好好記錄下來……。」



10. 作者還提醒說,計費工時導致律師情願專注狹隘的短期目標,而非富更廣更深層價值的事,例如操練技能、指導年輕同事,或於法律上有更高的追求。


12. 文章讓我想起魯益師 (CS Lewis) 說過:「懶惰的人才會努力。」聽起來很矛盾,但隨著年紀越大,越明白箇中深意。

13. 按工時紀錄表或收費單來看,我們可能非常勤奮,但事實上我們在整個人生旅程上可能十分懶惰。除工作、事業或金錢外,我們懶理尋找更重要的事,怎略其他和計費工時無關的主題,即使重要如健康、心理健康、身邊的人,特別是需要我們關顧和關注的人。

14. 我們疏於不深思重要的選擇,而只顧眼前的急事,沒有看清楚方向、想清楚該追求什麼價值。習慣了計費工時的做法,反使我們成為其奴隸。

15. 難怪很多律師都不快樂,我至少聽過三位非常成功的資深大律師抱怨:


16. 所以各位年輕的準律師,請千萬小心,不要落入這陷阱。及早劃清界線,釐清對你重要的事,從投身工作起,就要將這些事排除於計費工時之外,並持之以恒,假以時日,你將得享更多的自由和幸福。

17. 在麥迪文(Matt Damon)1997 年的電影《造雨人》中,其飾演的落泊律師贏了官司,讓保險公司支付巨額索賠後,聲名鵲起,但他卻放棄了利潤豐厚的執業,開始教授法律。他說:「若我讓成功和金錢支配我,我將成為濁水中的另一條鯊魚。」對白發人深省,讓我們不要成為香港水域的大白鯊,不要讓計費工時蒙蔽雙眼,只關注金錢。

18. 不要讓計費工時誘使你偏走捷徑、偷工減料;即使你的付出不能計算收費,也不要忘記花時間操練技能;不要單單考慮總計費時數,當思量你工作的每分鐘,蘊含的內容和重量。

19. 不要讓計費工時將你困於「詛咒」中。將詛咒化為祝福:有工作的人是有福的,當全力以赴去做;沒有工作的人也是有福的,因為有時間補回本被計費工時擠開的重要事情。


20. 當時間比金錢更寶貴,你最好明智得運用它。

21. 毫無疑問,法律專業相當耗費心力,你一定要找到堅信的理由,方能說服自己將身心投入其中。

22. 除去了金錢回報、社會地位、甚或對思考能力的考驗,對你來說法律專業還有什麼吸引之處?這一切的真正目的是什麼?是什麼讓你以此為「志業」而非「職業」並且感到自豪?法律專業如何令你興高采烈、滿懷希望?足以讓你不介意日復日年復年的,熬夜研讀或撰寫文件,承受法庭內無比的壓力?

23. 本月初,香港青年協會公佈於 5 月進行的調查結果,受訪者超過千多名15 至 34 歲的青年,很可惜,其中46.9% 人對香港的未來發展表示悲觀,只得 17.5%人感到樂觀。

24. 這些年輕人最希望在香港實踐的「核心價值」,分別為是「自由」(59.7%)、「民主」(41%)和「法治」(35.9%)。

25. 過去幾年,我們所有人都在反思「自由」、「民主」和「法治」的真正意義,而這些價值如何相互影響和依賴。

26. 英國作家和哲學家 GK Chesterton 使用了「圍欄」來類比有關改革的討論[1]:


27. 作為律師,沒有人比我們清楚為何社會需要法律,因為法律提供不可或缺的框架、界限和路標,從以讓真正的自由得以實現。

28. 世界、中國和香港正步進入前所未見的時代:困擾全球的傳染病、拆散無數家庭的烏克蘭戰爭、東西方局勢升温、日益惡化的全球糧食、能源和債務危機,還有氣候變化、經濟、種族和社會矛盾加劇。

29. 我們習慣「維護」權利和自由這概念,喻意兩者是會被侵蝕的,故需要被捍衛。但各位在坐的新一代律師,請更為進取一點,思考如何在當今新的國家和國際秩序下,怎樣去「體現」我們所珍視的權利和自由。

30. 一如以往,要釐清法律的界綫、訂明更清晰的路標、清除灰色地帶、通過法理論証和法庭判決闡明細節等,都有賴律師和法院的努力。

31. 終審法院大多數非常任法官表示:


32. 這些法官繼續留任終審法院,正是司法獨立作為香港基石保持不變的明証。

33. 無論是今日或以後,香港律師仍然有崇高的召命。

34. 忠於法治,就是即使是普通、尋常的案件,每次你都全力以赴,做到自己的最好。法律和藥物一樣,如果應用得當,可使有需要的人過上更好的生活。

35. 我有幸在不少案件中,擔任已故前終審法院常任法官、當時還是資深大律師沈澄 (Charles) 的副手,Charles以出色的盤問見稱,但很少人知道他花了多大心力來預備,某個深夜,當我們檢視證據時,我問當時五十出頭的 Charles,是什麼驅使他在事業巔峰時仍這般拼命,Charles喝一口威士忌道:


36. 美國最高法院首席大法官羅伯茨,某次訪港演講時,不僅讚嘆從文華酒店看到窗外的高樓大廈,還驚嘆於高樓之下的法律架構。除了硬件基建,具有起草複雜合同、完成融資交易、甚或解決糾紛的法律知識和能力,正正就是令香港成為國際金融中心的重要基建。

37. 就我自己有限的經驗來說,雖然不是慣常,有時候你知道正義在自己一方,或更準確地說,自己在正義的一邊。


39. 當然,好些時候你會掙扎,因為自己似乎站在陰暗的對面。作為律師,這正正是你的能力和誠信承受最嚴格考驗的時候。

40. 這時候,正是這時候,你更要堅定地向不正當的做法說不。上庭之前,在竭力尋求事實和法律研究後,給予當事人最好和誠實的建議,說服當事人相信法律是關於「付出和接受」、是「按比例」的、讓當事人明白不應抱超出法律允許範圍的期望或要求。

41. 在不越界的情況下,於庭上提出最好、最得體的論証;法理上爭取最大空間;恪守職責,即使會對當事人構成不利,也要引用相關案件和披露相關文件。

42. 這樣,即使最終你或會敗訴,但你不會失去當事人、對手和法院對你的尊重。當你恪守職責,就是實踐律師更高的召命,對司法系統做出貢獻。

43. 要對你所學習的法律和法律制度有信心,在執業和踐行公義的過程中,你會得到很大的滿足感。


44. 無論現在或將來,我們難免會受媒體上就今後香港法律環境的不同意見所轟炸,即使這些意見未必都反映現實。

45. 更直接的是,當你投身社會,肯定會遇到與你觀點截然不同的人,甚至是持相反意見的人。

46. 我鼓勵你就每個觀點,包括自己的,都進行嚴格的「盡職審查」。以「律師」的專業,做好研究,按證據審視每個說法或判斷。


48. 但要緊記,並非所有批評都是沒有根據的。有時不要太「律師化」,一旦你或你的觀點受到挑戰,先別啟動防禦機制,應先按下驕傲,打開耳朵和腦袋,仔細聆聽,沒有人永遠是對的。

49. 今年 6 月 12 日《紐約時報》上,Tish Harrison Warren 發表了一題為《你可以幫助修補世界的 11 種小方法》的文章。其中一項建議,是「設法理解別人的論點」:


50. 要磨練你的法律思維和法律技能,竭力保持誠信,使裡裡外外都如鋼鐵般堅靱、堅毅。結合誠實、能力和勤奮,為當事人、制度和社會作最大的貢獻。


51. 根據可靠的演繹,習主席剛剛向我們保證,包括普通法在內的「一國兩制」將持續到2047年以後。

52. 在未來 25 年及以後,香港和我們的普通法將繼續發展和演變。

53. 各位畢業生,你們也一樣。不要活在過去,擁抱「當下」這份禮物,懷著興奮的心情去迎接生活長河將要帶給你的各種經歷。

54. 好好持守所學的法律和珍視的價值,香港日後的發展,有賴可靠和具靭力法律制度,以及我們按法律以公平公義行事的能力。

55. 參與法律制度日常運作、行使和分配公義的人,他們的素質至關重要。

56. 今天有近 200 名畢業生,你們這一班生力軍,將成為法律界未來重要的力量。你比前人會有更多機會,為中國法治發展作出貢獻,接下來的 25 年將是你法律專業的黃金時期,也是決定2047 年後「一國兩制」走向的關鍵時間。

57. 大家怎樣各奔前程,不單影響你自己,也影響香港的未來和福祉–這個非凡的城市,這個我們深愛而且稱為家的香港。所以,請努力想想你應該怎樣地奔跑,讓你和大家都可以得到成就。

58. 再次祝賀你們,願主祝福你們。

[1] “The Drift from Domesticity” (1929)
[2] 五位來自英國的非常任法官向法新社發表的聯合聲明