Stephanie Chan 陳孜翹BBA(Law) 2007; LLB 2009
“There’s a lot of talent in Hong Kong qualified lawyers, and sometimes many foreign law firms with presences in Hong Kong don’t fully understand how to view the local qualification and whether the training is enough to handle cross border or offshore work. If adding a U.S. qualification tweaks their perspective slightly, I think I’ve succeeded in my job.”
Most might think that it is only natural for someone to practice law after completing an undergraduate law degree and the Postgraduate Certificate in Laws (PCLL) program. But for Stephanie Chan, she decided to take the path less taken based on an insight she gained while studying abroad. At the age of 25, she negotiated a deal with BARBRI, the world’s leading U.S. bar examination preparatory course, to be its exclusive licensee in Hong Kong and Taiwan. This became a core offering of her company, Asia Bar Review (ABR).
After completing her studies at HKU and her PCLL Program at CUHK, she went on to complete a Master of Laws (LL.M.) at the University of Pennsylvania. It was there where she realized how important it is, even for a lawyer eventually wanting to practice in Asia, to become a U.S. qualified lawyer.
“The United States is still the biggest consumer market and financial market in the world,” she explains, “as the world becomes more flat, more cross-border transactions are bound to occur. At Penn, I realized that the U.S. has a lot of extraterritorial jurisdiction given its history of being such a dominant global force. In the wake of the financial crisis, I saw a growing trend towards more regulation in the U.S., especially in the financial sector. In turn, this means Hong Kong lawyers or Singapore lawyers or Taiwan lawyers without some knowledge of U.S. law to navigate the increasingly complicated regulation will be grossly disadvantaged,”
This insight led to her belief that there will be a secular growth in the number of U.S. qualified lawyers in Asia. “Right now it is still relatively uncommon for a Hong Kong qualified lawyer or a Singapore qualified lawyer to also be a U.S. qualified lawyer,” she quips, “but in 20 to 25 years’ time, I am not surprised if U.S. qualification becomes a pre-requisite to many legal positions.”
As an entrepreneur, Stephanie appreciates the importance of being able to embrace uncertainties and to handle rejections . From the first steps of negotiating the license to marketing the BARBRI course in Asia, she had to think on her feet and no small milestone could be taken for granted. Stephanie recalls the lukewarm response she initially received from BARBRI, but “three parts enthusiasm, one part persistence, and a sprinkle of luck”, as she puts it, was what sealed the deal.
Since launching Asia Bar Review in 2011, Stephanie has helped hundreds of lawyers in Asia become U.S. qualified. Her success has also earned her company an expanded licensing agreement with BARBRI to the Singapore market in 2014. Recently, she has also been busy running the ABR Pro Bono Program, a collaborative effort between ABR and non-profits in Hong Kong, to help lawyers fulfill the newly added pro-bono requirement for New York Bar admission.
“The goal of the requirement is for all lawyers to experience and gain hands on experience in improving access to justice for the underprivileged,” she explains, “I think it’s a great character building experience for lawyers even if they aspire to only do transactional work. I firmly believe compassion is an important ingredient to any society and sometimes we take a lot of things for granted- like have the opportunity to study law at the University of Hong Kong.“
On that note, Stephanie feels that she has gone full circle. During her time at HKU, Stephanie participated in the ILOP program- which emphasized the need to be a responsible and responsive global citizens. Today, especially with regards to her work at the ABR Pro Bono Program, she is delighted that she is executing that vision and belief.
When asked what has been the most rewarding experience in starting her own company, Stephanie notes, “When my clients tell me how useful having the U.S. qualification is to their career and how ABR has made the U.S. qualification process almost effortless, I’m the happiest person in the world. Right now, the U.S. qualification process is really still a black box to many people and I’m glad I’ve made the process more transparent and more accessible to many Asian lawyers in need of the qualification.”
If adding a U.S. qualification tweaks their perspective slightly, I think I’ve succeeded in my job.