Joshua Chu is a Consultant at ONC Lawyers and is currently based in Hong Kong. He specializes in Technology Law and Civil Litigation. In this interview with Asia Law Portal, he details the focus of his practice, key considerations for companies managing litigation risks in Hong Kong, and his advice for law students interested in a career in litigation.
What is your practice focus?
The primary focus of my practice is in Technology Law and Civil Litigation. The reason why I have inherited such a focus can be traced back to my pre-legal career when I had served as a department head of the IT Department with Evangel Hospital. Ever since then, the tech part of my past career never quite parted ways with myself. This geek-root is illustrated by the flagship case which launched my career when I represented one of the world’s largest cryptocurrency exchanges in Hong Kong’s very first crypto-litigation back in 2015.
Since then, I have handled a number of high profile cases including representing a HK Listed Company in an litigation arising out of disputes over the ownership and terms of US$460 million of convertible notes as well as being the Plaintiffs solicitors in Hwang Joon Sang & Ors. v Golden Electronics Inc. & Ors (which had resulted in the creation of no less than 3 new case authority/precedents – one of which included the introduction of the use of data rooms as a new mode of legal service in Hong Kong).
Aside from my practice in law, I am also a Senior Consultant with Prosynergy (a regulatory consulting firm founded by ex-SFC Regulators) and a Business Management Consultant with a Blockchain Centre in South Korea.
Tell us about ONC Lawyers
As one of the largest domestic law firms in Hong Kong, ONC Lawyers is one of few truly all service law firms. The law firm had a proud history that can be traced all the way back to 1992 at its founding, having since grown to become one of Hong Kong’s top tiered law firms.
What are the key considerations companies should be focused on to limit the risk of litigation?
There are very few faultless litigation from my experience and one of our duties as litigators involves educating our client as to what went wrong.
For civil litigation, the root of the problem we find time and again is in the contracting relationships. A lot of multi-million dollar litigation starts as a result of parties failing to have proper documentation. This is not an isolated phenomenon for small companies and goes all the way to Listed Companies where we see transactions proceeding without any documentation or due diligence. Essentially, these parties are playing legal roulette whereby the saving of legal costs may result in years of dispute resolution process and many times the costs.
This problem is both external as well as internal. This is exemplified in the formation of a new company or a joint venture where parties usually starts with a jubilant mood (thinking very little of the prospect of breaking up). By not having a good and well structured shareholders agreement in place however (relying solely on trust and goodwill), the extra space often times turn deadly with may shareholders dispute arising as a result of not having relationship and rights clearly defined.
Good documentation of relationship is therefore the key to litigation mitigation.
Aside from the typical commercial disputes, in recent years, we have also seen an upheaval of cyber related crimes. For companies, having a good IT internal control as well as an established contingency plan is essential for safeguarding a company’s interest (if not prevention of a cybersecurity breach, having a good contingency plan will (i) ensure the uninterrupted operation of the company and (ii) give the company a better chance at asset recovery).
What advice do you have for law students aspiring to a career in litigation?
There are only 2 ways that laws are created (thereby making history in the process). First, there is the legislative route. Second, there is the Judicial Activism route. The only way that a lawyer can contribute to the latter is by way of having a practice in litigation (where in the event new arguments/positions being adopted by the Courts, new laws can be created). However, the prospect of contributing to the ongoing development of new laws is never to be taken by granted with many litigators going through their entire careers merely applying laws to their client’s position.
In this respect, I have been very fortunate to have lead the team that brought about the creation of 3 new case authorities this past year (changing the procedural landscape in Hong Kong):
- Hwang Joon Sang and Another v. Golden Electronics Inc. and Others  HKCFI 1084 – this was the case authority where the Honourable Mr. Justice Coleman agreed with our proposition to introduce the use of data rooms being a new mode of legal service in Hong Kong (as opposed to having arrange for couriers to send crates of bundles of documents overseas)
- Hwang Joon Sang and Another v. Golden Electronics Inc. and Others  HKCFI 544 – in this decision, the High Court, in an attempt to promote cost savings and green measures – encouraged banks to provide information in disclosure applications via digital means
- Hwang Joon Sang and Another v. Golden Electronics Inc. and Others  HKCFI 1233 – in this decision, the High Court attempted to reign in on an un-developed issue regarding disclosure applications – specifically, the bank’s costs in disclosure applications
Aside from judicial activism, litigators often gets to be on the forefront of novel cases. In my career for example, I had the honour of conducting one of the Hong Kong’s very first crypto-litigation back in 2015 (HCA 1980/2015) where my team and I successfully defended the world’s largest crypto-exchange at the time (this was also before Bitcoin’s first dramatic increase in value in 2017). Quite unfortunately (and regrettably) however, the managing partner at my previous firm refused to entertain my client’s idea (which I was very much on board with) of settling our legal fees with BTC (as at December 2015, the conversion rate of USD to BTC was USD 370.68 to 1BTC) hence why I am still working as a lawyer to this date.
Therefore, if you are interested in contributing to the development of our legal system or leaving a mark in history, I would have to say litigation is the route to take. That said, as a disclaimer, litigation is stressful. As such, receding hairline is a concern (either that or you can always consider a career with the bar where your appreciation for the wig may grow with time).
Last but not the least, always remember that there is only so much you can achieve on your own. Never forget to appreciate your teammates.