Elsie Liu, Head of Family Law Group for Haldanes and has been recognised as a Litigation Star and one of Asia-Pacific's Top 100 Women in Litigation. She has been focusing on matrimonial and family law for over 25 years. She is one of the top divorce lawyers in Hong Kong who specialises not only in high-net-worth divorces but also in providing advice on matrimonial law to both the local and expatriate community. Her professional biography can be viewed here.
Liu speaks to Benchmark Litigation about her practice history, memorable cases, and gender diversity in Hong Kong's legal industry.
In your opinion how does the firm differ from its competitors?
The firm has a combination of partners who are locals and expatriates. This means the firm is well placed to respond to the cultural backgrounds of differing clients with a degree of sensitivity and understanding which could be regarded as exceptional in the field. The firm has now been established for 40 years and has developed a niche for itself amongst our competitors.
What part of this job do you personally find most satisfying? Most challenging?
I am both an experienced mediator and family lawyer. It is always most satisfying to me to assist in providing solutions for clients where their problems seemed intractable when we first met. To meet a client who is in a great state of distress and suffering and to assist them in finding a route to resolving what might seem at the time an impossible situation is very gratifying.
Not surprisingly, the most difficult cases are where the children’s issues are in dispute. To assist clients, where their love for their children is unquestionable, in finding ways to produce the best results possible for them in maintaining a fulfilled and loving relationship with a child, after a breakdown of a parental relationship, is the most challenging task that I face on a daily basis.
What has been your most memorable case to date?
I have been involved in a Hague Convention case which is the most memorable to me. I assisted the Mother to oppose the Father’s application to “return the Child from Hong Kong to the US”, such that the Child at his tender age would not be separated from the Mother.
The High Court dismissed the Father’s application for the return of a child from Hong Kong to the US, as the Judge was convinced that the child’s habitual residence remained in Hong Kong and had not changed from Hong Kong to the US despite the child’s stay in the US, due to a lack of degree of stability necessary for such residence to become “habitual”.
In reaching a decision, the Court held that there was no intention on the part of the Mother to relocate to the US permanently, as alleged by the Father. Most importantly, the Father signed a written note acknowledging that the Mother and the child’s US trip was meant to be for travel purpose and the Mother and the child would be able to return to Hong Kong when and as they wish. In addition, the Court was satisfied that the Mother did not integrate into the US society during her stay.
The Father appealed against the High Court’s decision and the hearing was conducted by way of remote hearing. The Father’s application was dismissed as the Judge was not satisfied that the child’s residence in the USA had acquired the necessary degree of stability to become habitual.
What is the employment outlook like within the legal field? How much demand is there for people, specifically women, in your particular practice areas? Are you finding that fewer women are entering these sectors (regulatory defence/internal investigation/consumer finance/etc.)?
I can only speak with some authority as regards the involvement of women in my own particular field. Women now outnumber men in the field of family law in Hong Kong. I would suppose that there is a perception that women are more sensitive to the needs of couples and children and it is plain to see that there are more and more women entering the field. I must make the point however that only a certain type of person can handle the rigours of family law and that my impression is that a significant number of women will move to another area of practice where there is less stress and emotion.
What obstacles do you believe women [in this profession] face that could potentially hinder their profitability or growth?
Unfortunately, there will always be situations where some men will regard women as inferior and just not up to the job. It can be seen from the number of women in the judiciary how long it is taking for women to occupy positions of responsibility and legal practice is no different. It is all the more that we hold our ground and stand up for what we believe in.
Do you find that women encounter different expectations with respect to personality and demeanour than male counterparts by clients, the courts, and other professionals across the industry?
I have found that perceptions have at last begun to change and there are fewer occasions when, as a woman, I find myself vulnerable to offence or adverse innuendo just because I am a woman. There will always be some men in both the courts and other professions, and amongst clients who will regard women as having no place in the legal profession or regard them as second class objects of desire. It is taking time for that to change but I perceive that there is a general change in attitude now which gives cause for some optimism.
Have you found the legal industry to have addressed the disparity in expectations?
My experience is that there is more equality in expectations as women have proved time and time again that they are up for any task put in front of them. There is solid progress at last on the part of the profession to address the disparity in expectations.
What do you think the legal profession needs to do in order to improve opportunities for women (in-house or private practice) litigators?
The profession needs to promote more women more quickly to advocacy positions .Without experience the opportunities will not increase. Clearly there should be active encouragement from HR teams to actively recruit women as advocates and more promotion on the part of firms to their potential clients to broadcast the talents of their female advocates.
How important is mentorship in this profession and what advice, if any, would you give women who are just starting their legal careers?
Mentorship is important and finding someone who can be a guide and a friend can be inspirational in facing up to all the challenges one will meet on a daily basis.
I would advise any woman to stand by her principles and to face off any men who seek to resort to sex discrimination in trying to prove a point. I think society has moved on and generally a woman will find more support than she might have expected from male colleagues, and like any profession it is important to know who your friends are and once found value them as they could be profoundly helpful in going forward with your career.