Interview with Jonathan Ross: In-house lawyers and Pro Bono
Jonathan Ross is a seasoned in-house lawyer who is well known in the Hong Kong in-house legal community. He worked in New York and Hong Kong with top tier US law firms from 1990 to 2001 and was then in-house with various companies since 2002.
Our co-Managing Director, Annie Tang, interviewed Jonathan at the Landmark, Central business district to get an insight into his involvement with the Pro Bono landscape in Hong Kong.
A: Annie Tang / J: Jonathan Ross
A: Jonathan, how did you first get interested or involved in pro bono work?
J: When I was a first-year lawyer in New York, in 1991, it was during a period of slowdown in transactional work and I ended up spending 3-6 months’ doing pro bono work. It was extremely rewarding. I helped out on mostly tax-exempt situations for charitable organisations. I also helped an elderly lady who was denied disability allowance on the basis of lack of evidence. I contacted the mental institutions she had been in and gathered enough evidence to win a sizable award for her at the labour tribunal. I was very lucky because my law firm at the time was very eager to do pro bono work. They even hired a pro bono coordinator who handed out cases to associates. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to have worked for such a forward-thinking firm who genuinely wanted to give back to the community.
When I came to Hong Kong, the firm was still very small and wasn't so active in promoting pro bono here. Since I wasn't qualified in Hong Kong until 1998 and the firm did not become dual-qualified until after I left, I didn't do pro bono work. In 2001, I became in-house counsel so I wasn’t able to do pro bono work then.
A: What is your involvement with pro bono work now?
J: I am currently serving on the Law Society Council as well as the Pro Bono Committee, the In-house Lawyer Committee and 3 other committees of the Hong Kong Law Society!
Since I joined the Council I have been eager to promote the opportunities for pro bono work for in-house counsel. However, only solicitors in private practice in Hong Kong can currently provide pro bono legal advice in Hong Kong except through a limited number of Law Society sponsored schemes. This is because the Law Society requires solicitors offering legal services to the public to have a Hong Kong practising certificate and be covered by professional indemnity insurance. However, there is a large in-house legal community and a good proportion of them would like to be involved in providing pro bono legal advice. In-house lawyers can provide legal assistance but we want to see how in-house lawyers can give legal advice.
As they cannot do so due to the current regulatory and insurance restrictions, I have been doing what I can both inside and outside the Law Society to look for ways to work within the rules or to change the rules. For example, we have set up an informal group of people in the Law Society and/or in ACC to exchange ideas.
We are also beginning tentatively to approach insurance brokers to see if they can help with obtaining a group policy for ACC.
A: Do you anticipate that there will be changes that will allow in-house Counsel to practice pro bono law?
J: I am aware that the Government is eager to promote pro bono for lawyers who are not in law firms and I am working to encourage further discussions. I anticipate that there will be a change in the current environment because the Government and some Law Society members want to effect the change.
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