…I strongly believe that lawyers must be creative in order to stay on top of the game — to resourcefully apply the law to practical and complicated scenarios to provide options to clients, to ingeniously interpret the grey areas in the law with professionalism and ethics acting to the best interest of their clients, to devise innovative ways to provide our services including the use of technology and new marketing channels, to name a few.
The legal field is known to be extremely competitive. Lawyers are often smart, ambitious, and highly educated. That being said, what does it take to stand out and become a “Top Lawyer” in your specific field of law? In this interview series called “5 Things You Need To Become A Top Lawyer In Your Specific Field of Law”, we are talking to top lawyers who share what it takes to excel and stand out in your industry.
As a part of this interview series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Bernie Hung.
Bernie Hung is a Lawyer and Founder & CEO of BlueBox Rocket. She helps impact-driven CEOs and entrepreneurs bring their seed of an idea into reality or scale up their business for massive expansion through her unique assimilation of legal expertise, business consulting, and empowerment coaching. Based in London, she serves a worldwide clientele.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Before we dig in, our readers would love to get to know you a bit more. What is the “backstory” that brought you to this particular career path in Law? Did you want to be an attorney “when you grew up”?
I was born and bred in Hong Kong; I now live in London. After A-levels, I got a full scholarship to study in King’s College London and so I went. Interestingly, at that time I wanted to study English Literature and become a teacher, but my dad wouldn’t let me. He told me that if I had to choose that subject I wouldn’t be going abroad. Both my parents were devoted teachers who worked very long hours all their lives, so I guess my dad didn’t want me to ‘go down that path’ so to speak. My dad tactfully hinted that I might want to look into Law. Professions such as lawyers, accountants, engineers, architects, and so on are always held in a very high regard among Asians. I went to the law library of the Hong Kong University, read the first chapters of a couple of law books and thought to myself they were ‘not too bad’. Well, the rest is history.
Can you tell us a bit about the nature of your practice and what you focus on?
I was trained as an intellectual property lawyer. I spent the first eleven years of my career in intellectual property, technology, and corporate finance departments of first-tier global law firms. After I went in-house in GUCCI and became their senior legal counsel for Asia Pacific at the parent company level, my practice realistically grew to cover everything legal (including intellectual property and brand protection), regulatory and compliance. Nowadays, I love working on all aspects of intellectual property and technology laws, including prosecution, brand protection and enforcement, commercial (such as distribution, franchising, licensing, e-commerce, m-commerce), corporate transactional work, and dispute resolution, with particular focus on China and Asia Pacific.
You are a successful attorney. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? What unique qualities do you have that others may not? Can you please share a story or example for each?
Curiosity — Curiosity sparks creativity and innovation. This is especially helpful as I work in intellectual property and technology and my clients are mostly pioneering visionaries. I remember a client asked me to help review some ‘standard’ documentation in relation to selling on the largest e-commerce platform in China for the company he’s working for. Ten minutes into the conversation after asking some questions, it turned out that he actually needed coaching in relation to setting up his own business and improving his health! When it comes to expanding our vision, our business and personal frontiers, I think we should all think like a child — always be curious, always ask why and why not, always don’t take ‘no’ for an answer! I have a ‘rebel’ in my blood and I think and act in an unconventional way. My clients and my friends always tell me they have never expected I will ask some of the questions that I asked.
Honesty — Be honest to yourself and to others. I’m all for authenticity; phoniness and fakeness don’t sit well with me, This may be one of the reasons why I love being an intellectual property lawyer because I help brands fight against pirates and counterfeiters! I remember when I was a junior lawyer, a client asked me whether I could achieve a particular result. I knew we couldn’t, but I was very tempted for a second to say ‘yes’ as some of our partners would (some would over-promise to get the work in, and later find a way to blame others when they couldn’t deliver). But I just couldn’t let that word come out of my mouth when I knew it’s not the right thing to do. In the end, I told the client we couldn’t guarantee that result, but our team collectively has the intelligence, experience, and network to devise the best strategy and get him the best possible result in the circumstance. To my delight, the client seemed pleased with my answer. From that moment I know smart clients value honest allies with integrity more than yes-people.
Empathy — I’m a naturally empathetic, intuitive, and observant person. I do things by thinking and noticing how other people perceive what I say or do, how my words or actions affect other people, and I’ll pre-empt others’ negative emotions by tweaking and adapting my method. When I was about six or seven years old, my class teacher wrote in my report card that I am empathetic (in Chinese), I didn’t know that phrase and I had to ask my mum to teach me to look it up in the dictionary. Empathy is crucial in business and makes the best leaders, and we should practice thinking from the perspective of our clients, business partners and employees.
Do you think you have had luck in your success? Can you explain what you mean?
Call it luck, good fortune, blessing or whatever else you want to call it. I do believe everything happens for a reason and the Universe has always taken care of me and I’m truly grateful.
Do you think where you went to school has any bearing on your success? How important is it for a lawyer to go to a top-tier school?
In my case I had an invaluable opportunity to go to a top-tier school which not only gave me a top-notch law degree, but also broadened my network and horizon with limitless opportunities, and this experience has a strong bearing on what I do right now. That said, I do believe where you started is not important, what you do to get to where you want to be is what we need to direct our eyes and heart towards. Some of us have phenomenal life stories, some of us don’t and that’s ok. Ordinary people who choose to make extraordinary decisions every single day in service to others are successful people. So I’ll say to all lawyers, irrespective of where you go to school, set your right intentions, cultivate the right mindset, strategies and relationships, push through adversities with your inner light, and the rest will flow.
Based on the lessons you have learned from your experience, if you could go back in time and speak to your twenty-year-old self, what would you say? Would you do anything differently?
Actually no. I’m happy where I am now, and I believe all my past experiences have brought me here so I’m grateful to all of them. There is no good or bad experience as such but what I make out of them and how I make use of them. I learnt an awful lot from so-called ‘bad’ experience, nothing is wasted in my view.
This is not easy work. What is your primary motivation and drive behind the work that you do?
It’s my calling to help people, and I am best in the world in helping people be the best in their world. It pains me to see great talents go to waste, so first and foremost I’d love to nurture my own talents and utilise them to help make our world a better place. It’s also important for me to be a good role model to my children to be creative, persevering, and resilient, and to foster their ‘blue sky’ mindset.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
I have been helping entrepreneurs to be pitch-ready to obtain investments from potential VCs or angel investors. Their projects are incredibly innovative and fun to work on! Another area where I have been spending a significant amount of my time on is helping western luxury brands in different industries expand into China and the Asia Pacific in general.
Where do you go from here? Where do you aim to be in the next chapter of your career?
I founded the Rebel Law School, where I help brilliant lawyers gain the skills that they don’t teach you in law school or in law firms. I help them lead a career of true impact, excellence, and profound client relationships. According to the statistics of the American Bar Association, there were 1.33 billion lawyers in the U.S. in 2020, imagine how many lawyers there are worldwide! Unfortunately, however, the legal profession in some places has gotten a bad reputation. What I wanted to achieve through the Rebel Law School is to revolutionise the legal industry through our teaching, research, and partnerships, and we bring in and train “rebel lawyers” — excellent, all-rounded, unconventional, fun-to-work-with lawyers with extreme professionalism, utmost integrity and immense passion in service. This is one of the projects that I’d love to work on down the road.
Without sharing anything confidential, can you please share your most successful “war story”? Can you share the funniest?
When I was with GUCCI, one of our court battles was against a hugely successful and famous brand in the U.S. It was a worldwide battle as we were challenged in different countries, but China was one of our most important markets in terms of revenues and potentials. We meticulously prepared each and every single piece of evidence and argument. I was very pleased that we did that as the judge did go through literally every single one of them in the hearing! We won in the end and it was a hugely satisfying result, highly commended by senior management.
Ok, fantastic. Let’s now shift to discussing some advice for aspiring lawyers. Do you work remotely? Onsite? Or Hybrid? What do you think will be the future of how law offices operate? What do you prefer? Can you please explain what you mean?
I have been working mostly online since the pandemic, but I actually love to meet up with clients whenever we can. You establish trust so much quicker and you learn so much more about them in face-to-face interaction. I enjoy this hybrid working mode, and I believe lawyers will work like that for many years to come.
How has the legal world changed since COVID? How do you think it might change in the near future? Can you explain what you mean?
The legal industry has been undergoing a rapid transformation from an artisanal, lawyer-centric one into one that aligns much more closely with business, and COVID-19 has definitely accelerated this process. The legal industry is becoming more diverse and complex, which poses a challenge for lawyers who were trained in a traditional way. In order to keep up and lead the shifting landscape of law in this digital age, lawyers need many different skillsets far beyond just excellent technical knowledge.
The industry’s focus on legal expertise is giving way to a new era of business-driven law. Legal delivery now has to include tech capability, process skills, digital transformation and access to capital in order for lawyers today to better serve their clients tomorrow. The practice of law has changed from being a mere support function to one that intersects nearly every aspect of company operations — from product development strategies all the way down to human resources management practices (and everything in between), and C-suites with insight and foresight have long been calling upon lawyers as their close business allies. Our clients are savvy businessmen, and we should be too.
We often hear about the importance of networking and getting referrals. Is this still true today? Has the nature of networking changed or has its importance changed? Can you explain what you mean?
Most of my clients have been with me for more than ten years, and my practice and business has certainly grown from referrals throughout the years. I believe networking continues to be one of the critical success factors of any business. Post-COVID I believe we’ll see a lot more online networking opportunities versus large-scale in-person conferences and gatherings. The form of networking does not matter so much, it is what you set as an intention before going into those events that matters most. Some people may find it bizarre, I set my intention to make authentic connections and to help, not necessarily to convert X% of those people into clients or achieve a Y-digit figure within a particular time frame.
Based on your experience, how can attorneys effectively leverage social media to build their practice?
I believe LinkedIn is a good place to be in to network and grow clientele. Depending on what type of legal services you provide and how innovative your business model is, Facebook and YouTube may also be good platforms to build a community, hold trainings and run advertisements. Social media requires valuable content and consistency though, so it is critical to get some tools to schedule your commitment, get your team to help out, or alternatively to outsource it.
Excellent. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 Things You Need To Become A Top Lawyer In Your Specific Field of Law?” Please share a story or an example for each.
- Excellent technical skills — This is a given, it’s the minimum. However, as previously mentioned, our professionalism should go way beyond getting the law factually correct. Lawyers should also have superb business acumen, so that our advice is creative yet practical enough to be implemented in a fast-paced, complicated corporate reality. I remember when I first started as an in-house counsel in GUCCI, life was nearly 24/7 and hectic. One day I received some legal advice from a senior partner of a top-notch law firm in Asia. After reading the 20-page legal advice with an executive summary and a “recommendation” section, I still couldn’t figure out what were the legal options available to us and what were the lawyer’s recommendations for us to practically implement his advice in our business, so I had to practically re-write the legal recommendations to our senior management! I told myself back then that I should train myself and my team to go way beyond that.
- Immerse passion — Hopefully all lawyers are genuinely passionate in their primary practice area and in helping clients and not just earning the money, otherwise it can be extremely mentally and emotionally testing to work on the paperwork day-in-day-out, manage challenging clients and colleagues, do conference or zoom calls around the clock, find time to keep updated on the law, spend time in creating new offers, marketing and networking, and so on.
- Utmost integrity — To me, this is another given, it should be self-explanatory and non-negotiable.
- Responsibility — This is closely related to our moral responsibility and compliance with the applicable professional ethics or rules of professional conduct. We also have our professional responsibility, social responsibility, and responsibility to our profession.
- Creativity — Unfortunately people do not always associate lawyers with creativity. I strongly believe that lawyers must be creative in order to stay on top of the game — to resourcefully apply the law to practical and complicated scenarios to provide options to clients, to ingeniously interpret the grey areas in the law with professionalism and ethics acting to the best interest of their clients, to devise innovative ways to provide our services including the use of technology and new marketing channels, to name a few.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might see this. 🙂
This may not be the answer you are expecting… I am a huge fan of Marie Kondo and am training to be one of her consultants. I’d love to have a private get-together with her to brainstorm how to apply her methodology to the legal profession and to ‘spark joy’ to our clients whenever they think of going to see their lawyer!
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success and good health!