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An Interview with
Katherine Cheung
Partner
Dorsey & Whitney

Dorsey was formed in 1912 at the request of a client that is still a valued client today. The longevity of our client relationships distinguishes us and speaks to the competitive edge we deliver. With locations across the United States and in Canada, Europe and the Asia-Pacific region, Dorsey provides an integrated, proactive approach to its clients' legal and business needs.

 

Dorsey has long been committed to China and the entire Asia-Pacific region. The firm opened its Hong Kong office in 1995, its Shanghai office in 2001 and its Beijing office in 2015. The Hong Kong office comprises more than 15 lawyers, who are qualified in Hong Kong, England & Wales, the United States, Canada and Australia. Admitted to full practice in Hong Kong, we advise on international transactions across the Asia-Pacific region. In addition, our Hong Kong office serves as a legal hub for our MNC clients for all their legal needs in the region.

 

Dorsey’s China-focused team works across continents with a worldwide view, whether helping U.S., European and other international entities successfully conduct business in China, or helping Chinese companies achieve their business goals in the U.S., Europe and around the globe.

Publish Date: 
31 August 2021
Executive Interview
   Executive Interviews   

Tell us about your background, and what are you most passionate about?

I was born and raised in China until after middle school. I then went to Britain and earned my law degree. I am a passionate litigation and dispute resolution lawyer, qualified in Hong Kong and England & Wales.

 

Litigation had an appeal to me like no other area of law because each case is different, there is always something new to learn, and I love the challenge of finding the best argument for my clients. When I started my career, I had a rather binary view of the merits of any given case: it is either a “good” case, or a “bad” case. However, through decades of experience, I gained a more nuanced view of being a dispute lawyer. I realized that no matter how tough your client’s case seem at first glance, I can always chart a way to the best resolution for my client. That requires the ability to approach the issue strategically. When the cases involve complex legal and factual issues, it is up to my team and I to deliver results from a sound legal basis. We don’t just to tell the client what the law says, but we advance the clients’ cases using the entire range of intellectual and experiential resources Dorsey has to offer.

 

The part of my work that I am most passionate about is the challenge to push myself to find the best strategy for my client’s cases, knowing that I can help clients resolve their disputes expeditiously and with the best possible results. Most of the time when clients come to me, they are facing enormous pressure. The dispute with the opposing party has caused disruption to their business operations. To be able to lighten their burden and concentrate on their business is gratifying.

 

But the law isn’t my only passion. I rock it out as the hard-hitting drummer in a rock band! After our singer left, I stepped up to become the lead vocalist. Luckily, not all the audience left!

Describe a time you had to make a tough decision (e.g. budget cuts, organizational restructuring, market withdrawal, etc.). What did you do and what was the result?

Before joining Dorsey & Whitney, I worked with another international law firm for more than 10 years. Making the decision to switch to Dorsey & Whitney involved weighing off the benefits of staying the course with one firm against the opportunity of joining a practice with a strong history and a bright future. There is always some trepidation involved in leaving a comfortable environment, where your accomplishments are known and respected, for one where you have to prove yourself over again. As a lawyer, you leave behind clients earned and need to start over again, no matter how senior you are. Fortunately, D&W's position and support made it possible for me to get off to a flying start. The decision was, in retrospect, obviously the right one. The research, negotiation, and commitment to take a risk paid off.

How would others define your communication style? Do you prefer to be close to your employees or maintain a healthy distance, and why?

I hope my clients feel I truly understand their issues - legal and commercial and other extraneous factors. Because of my upbringing, I can appreciate why sometimes a PRC client needs to take into account certain considerations which may not be relevant to other international clients.

 

Understanding a client’s needs and perspective is vital, in particular when they are facing a dispute in a foreign jurisdiction. At the same time, it is important to be able to explain legal concepts to a client in a comprehensible manner. The key to that is to understand and explain the logic behind the law.

How has the industry been changing in recent years? What do you think are the biggest challenges your industry will face in the next 5 years?

The business world continuously becomes more sophisticated, and the legal industry needs to keep pace. As in-house counsel staff continues to grow, clients need us for fewer routine matters and they tend to look to outside law firms to solve extremely complex problems. We need to know more than just the law. We have to understand the business and the industry of our clients.

 

I am fortunate to work in a firm that has a wide range of expertise including lawyers who deeply understand the wide range of industries on which we advise. It is important to be part of a team that can take on very complex and multi-faceted business issues to deliver the sophisticated services and expertise that our clients require.

 

One of the challenges facing the legal industry is the use of technology to improve the service we provide. The industry has traditionally relied on the intellect and hard work of lawyers to get results. That is still necessary, but it is not sufficient. We need to provide value for our fees and superior insights to our clients, and the technology we have invested in delivers on both of those fronts. Our firm works with a number of technologies, many incorporating the benefits of artificial intelligence, to increase our efficiency and to sharpen our analysis. That trend will continue and it will be challenging to many.

COVID, US-China relations have caused economic uncertainties and difficulties in the past two years; yet on the flip side, this business and commercial environment gives rise to opportunities in the following areas:

  • Fintech industry

  • Business reorganization, restructuring, and work-outs (many cases are due to COVID, for example, the Gategroup Holding AG restructuring in 2020)

  • Disputes (especially those due to COVID force majeure in 2020)

  • Sanction and export control

  • National security/CFIUS

  • Data protection and security

  • IPO work including Chinese companies’ secondary listings in HK and Mainland China

Some of the biggest challenges:

  • Competition from local Chinese law firms. We have seen the fast rise of big “red circle” law firms and others have expanded quickly in China in recent years. Many lawyers now have overseas academic backgrounds and cross-border deal expertise. They may lack a truly global platform that real international law firms like Dorsey have, but could improve in years to come.

  • Competition for talent. This is challenge for many law firms on the global scene

 

What personality traits make a good leader?

The ability to inspire others with demonstrated integrity.

 

What does the future hold for your company?

 

Dorsey is a U.S.-based law firm, but we have had offices in Asia since 1995, when our Hong Kong office opened. Not only have we grown to three offices in Asia (Hong Kong, Beijing and Shanghai), but we have expanded our Asia capabilities with experience and Chinese language skills in other offices, particularly New York. As China and the entire region have become more and more integrated and crucial in the world business community, Dorsey has embraced the business opportunities that go along with that. We are a comprehensive firm that serves clients in China and Asia, not just a few offices. I see that as a very bright part of our future.

Contact

Katherine Cheung

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