Expand AllCollapse All

An Immensely Rewarding Career

Gilbert Mo, Consultant Counsel and Former Deputy Law Draftsman

Gilbert Mo
Gilbert Mo (centre) presenting on “Bilingual Legal Drafting in Plain Language – a Law Drafter’s Perspective” in 2022

I came across the Law Drafting Division (LDD) in 1987 when I learnt that LDD was tasked with a mammoth project under which the legislation of Hong Kong was to be drafted and enacted in both Chinese and English. To become a fully bilingual jurisdiction, authentic Chinese texts had to be prepared for all pre-existing legislation. Having served the best part of my traineeship at that time, I had resolved to pursue a legal career that would allow me to make a tangible difference in our legal system and the city I called home. I was fortunate to grasp the opportunity to join LDD in 1988.

The work of a legislative drafter involves analyzing the Drafting Instructions issued by the policy bureaux of the Government Secretariat, settling a structure for the legislative scheme, getting into the details of how best to achieve the intended policy by sound statutory provisions and composing the provisions themselves. Legislative drafting is a daunting job that requires deep concentration, serious conceptual thinking and attention to details. The brainpower it takes to draft a seemingly simple provision may surprise many. Composing a water-tight provision that accurately reflects the intended policy, avoids unintended outcomes and operates effectively in the real world is difficult enough. Making it comprehensible for English readers as well as Chinese readers presents another huge challenge. Working out the best approach to put the elements together and present them in a clear and coherent fashion is incredibly satisfying. My efforts to draft sound and clear legislation would continue to benefit the readers after I have left my post and even this world. Leaving a mark like that is indeed a privilege.

LDD's drafters are not divided into groups according to policy areas. Each of us has opportunities to work for different policy bureaux and visit different areas of laws. We can peer into sectors of our society we might never otherwise have exposure to. Not many other legal careers offer such variety. I am in my fourth decade of service and am still excited by every new assignment because once a drafter has passed the apprentice stage, every assignment is unique and demands new solutions and approaches. It may be a new piece of legislation, an overhaul of an existing structure or adding to an existing scheme and ensuring that the wiring is properly connected. As we often have to handle different projects at the same time, skills in time management and project management are essential. Drafting is not a job done in a closed office in solitude. It requires team work. Drafters have to establish rapport with instructing officers and teammates in LDD and various advisory units of the Department of Justice. Interpersonal skills are essential.

Throughout the drafting process, the drafter is involved in policy development and has many opportunities to contribute to the shaping of the operational details of the scheme. We are at the cutting edge of Hong Kong's development. Good legislation is a bedrock of the rule of law we all treasure. Legislative drafting is more a cause than a job. If you are looking for work that offers constant mind-sharpening and lasting social impact, law drafting may be for you. For lawyers who aspire to use their professional knowledge, language ability and creativity to serve society, a career in LDD is immensely rewarding.

Blending Language and the Law

Amy Chan, Senior Assistant Law Draftsman

Amy Chan
Amy Chan (1st L) attending LDD Spring Dinner in 2018

Moments spent with the Law Drafting Division (LDD) have been most memorable. In retrospect, it was my childhood fascination with the Chinese language which drove me to excel in The Use of Chinese in Law module of the HKU’s LL.B. curriculum. On receiving the “Eric Au Prize in the Use of Chinese in Law”*, I was first introduced to LDD and law drafting, which I gratefully joined as a trainee solicitor on graduation and have chosen as my lifelong career.

Over the years, I was lucky enough to be involved in various interesting legislative drafting items. These range from the introduction of Smart ID cards (my first substantive drafting item as an apprentice), establishment of the minimum wage system (as a co-drafter with the then Law Draftsman), company law rewrite, winding-up legislation revamp, producing over one hundred items of marine safety legislation, overnight preparation of the emergency social distancing measures, supervising the drafting of over one hundred COVID-19 related fee concessions items, up to the most recent Ordinance for admitting non-locally trained medical personnel to Hong Kong. It was a real challenge to have the mammoth COVID-19 related fee concessions items completed within an extremely tight timeline but at the same time satisfying to see government relief measures for businesses and public being put in place in time.

In each legislative drafting process, it has always been an eye opening experience and certainly a great learning opportunity for me to be able to gain insights into the relevant policy intent and legislative background, straight from the horse’s mouth. It has the added bonus of establishing trust and friendship with colleagues from different policy bureaux and government departments which has also enriched my life.

Speaking of the most challenging aspect of legislative drafting, I would say that it is the task of drafting the Chinese text to make it easily comprehensible to the public. Often the rather complicated English counterparts may seem somewhat “convoluted”. Common law legal principles accumulated through a wealth of case law are deeply rooted in the English language, mechanical literal rendition of English legal expressions may result in awkward Chinese equivalents.

Since the launch of the bilingual legislation programme, colleagues in LDD have been endeavouring to improve the quality of the Chinese text of local legislation. To make it more accessible to users, LDD has adopted plain language and succinct sentence structure, which is more in line with the conventional usage of the Chinese language. Such a goal may appear to be a relentless pursuit, but our strenuous effort is definitely starting to pay off.

The work of legislative drafting is not only a profession, but an art of blending language and legal principles. It is also an important public mission to make the law more accessible to the public, which is conducive to upholding the rule of law. At LDD, we will continue to keep up our efforts to ensure that the torch can be passed to the next generation of aspiring law drafters to excel in every aspect of bilingual legal drafting.

* The late Mr. Eric Au was the Deputy Law Draftsman of LDD before his eternal rest in 1992. He led the drafting team under the Law Translation Programme to prepare Chinese texts of legislation enacted previously in English only. To show tribute to his contribution to legal drafting in Hong Kong, the Eric Au Memorial Fund Committee was established to make available prizes to encourage and inspire students to excel in their studies, and the “Eric Au Prize in the Use of Chinese in Law” was one of the prizes for the best performer in The Use of Chinese in Law module of the HKU’s LL.B.. curriculum.

Switching from Private Practice to the World of Legislative Drafting

Jonathan Luk, Senior Government Counsel

Jonathan Luk
Jonathan Luk attending a seminar on law drafting in 2016

I joined the Law Drafting Division (LDD) as a Government Counsel in 2014 and have been drafting bills and subsidiary legislation since then.

I spent my training with a local law firm and proceeded to work in the field of civil litigation for some years. During my litigation practice, I developed my practice around commercial, banking and judicial review litigation that kept me happily busy for some time.

Besides court advocacy, much of my time as a litigator was spent in drafting legal advices, court pleadings and court orders. I greatly enjoyed drafting those legal documents as they enabled me to exercise my mind rigorously and to find the most concise and watertight ways to express and develop complex ideas.

Litigation work also involves a lot of study and analysis of statutory materials. I often wondered how legislation is actually drafted and what the legislative drafting profession is like. I soon found myself thinking about developing a career in legislative drafting.

Changing the course of my career was no easy decision. I pondered a lot before finally deciding to take the plunge. However, when I eventually did so, I was delighted and reassured to find that many fellow drafters at LDD had been private practitioners like me.

LDD welcomes lawyers from diverse backgrounds and is fully committed to helping lawyers transitioning from private practice.

When I first joined LDD, I was assigned a drafter buddy to help me settle down. She was generous with sharing her experience and was a ready port-of-call to answer my rookie questions on all things related to drafting.

My team leaders who review my drafts take great interest in my progress as a drafter and often give very thoughtful comments and suggestions as to how I might improve my structuring of draft provisions and my handling of complex drafting projects.

On-the-job training is highly valued at LDD and responsibilities were given to me early in my drafting career.

During my first few weeks with LDD I was delighted to be assigned a Bill item, which I was able to take from the beginning, through the Executive Council submission, all the way through the Legislative Council committee stage and finally to publication in the Gazette. The satisfaction I drew from that exercise was immense.

LDD is also equipped with its own knowledge database and a library well-stocked with specialist legislative drafting books, manuals, dictionaries, articles and materials that I am free to consult whenever I come across a difficult issue.

Great care is taken by LDD when assigning drafting files and responsibilities according to the experience and professional development needs of the drafter. Each drafter is expected to be a generalist and to familiarize himself or herself with the policy area and legislation related to the drafting project.

Drafting legislation is no simple task. It requires much concentration, tenacity, great attention to detail, sensitivity to two very different languages and no small measure of creativity. If you think that you have what it takes and enjoy new challenges, a drafting career with LDD might just be the right choice for you.

The Place Where I Realized My Dream

Michael Choi, Senior Government Counsel

Michael Choi
Michael Choi (2nd L) attending LDD Christmas Party in 2019

I first became interested in law drafting when I assisted in drafting contracts during my traineeship at a law firm. Whilst I enjoyed the work, I appreciated that contracts have limited application and often only govern contracting parties’ conduct. The experience made me realize that I prefer drafting legal documents of wider application to society, such as legislation. Realizing that the Law Drafting Division (LDD) drafts most of the legislation in Hong Kong, I became interested in joining LDD after my traineeship.

When I joined the Department of Justice in late 2017, I was first assigned to the Civil Litigation Unit of the Civil Division. At the Unit, I learnt that many litigations against the Government arose from social problems that could be most effectively resolved by enacting new legislation. This experience confirmed my dream to draft legislation. Thus, I applied for a posting to LDD via the Department’s cross-divisional transfer scheme. My dream came true when I was posted to LDD for a year in April 2019.

Although I was excited to join LDD, I was worried that it might not be easy to adapt to the new environment since I lacked law drafting experience and feared that my previous work experience might be irrelevant. However, I soon realized that my worries were unfounded.

LDD provided me with ample training. In particular, I was nominated to attend a rewarding training course organized by the Prosecutions Division, from which I learnt about things to note when drafting offence and defence provisions.

I also benefitted from LDD’s progressive work allocation. In the beginning, I handled relatively straightforward drafting assignments on my own under supervision. I also partnered with more senior colleagues to draft more complex items. Such partnering allowed me to learn from my seniors about how to tackle the policy, legal and drafting issues of the item concerned. Furthermore, constructive feedback from supervisors about my work facilitated my improvement.

My past work experience proved to be helpful in my law drafting work. Knowledge about court rules that I gained from litigation work enabled me to efficiently handle an amendment exercise of the Rules of the High Court (Cap. 4 sub. leg. A). Moreover, my litigation experience helps me draft more precisely as I am able to analyze provisions from a litigator’s angle and identify potential loopholes and ambiguities in a draft provision.

During my 1-year-stay at LDD, I thoroughly enjoyed my work. The work was challenging, for example, even seemingly simple items required ample thought and creativity and the timeframe for some items was extremely tight. Yet it was interesting and touched on various aspects of Hong Kong’s development, such as providing tax concessions, strengthening the regulatory framework of the insurance industry, criminalizing voyeurism and reducing noise nuisance in public parks. I was immensely proud of being able to prepare legislation that could make a positive social impact. After my posting ended, I was honoured to be able to permanently stay at LDD. It has remained my firm belief that my work is interesting and is beneficial to society and that LDD is a place that encourages its staff’s personal growth and career development.

If you would like to utilize your legal and language skills to help shape Hong Kong’s development, LDD would be the perfect place for you.

Finding My Way in Law Drafting

Celia Ho, Government Counsel

Celia Ho
Celia Ho (R) preparing Fai Chun to decorate the office for Chinese New Year in 2019

How do you know if a career is for you?

For some people, it takes a while to find the right fit. I first read about the Law Drafting Division (LDD) in a government publication when I was working as a translator. How interesting it would be, I thought, to put your creative energy and love of words into writing laws that relate to all walks of life.

Therefore, at my Legal Trainee interview at the Department of Justice, I told the selection board emphatically that I would like to be attached to LDD for 3 months during my 2-year traineeship. Lucky enough, I was able to join LDD, first as a Legal Trainee and afterwards as a Government Counsel.

Learning by doing

Then came the intriguing question: how do I go about writing legislation? It was never taught in school. The candid sharing of senior colleagues was reassuring: “Everyone learns on the job. With lots of real-world practice, it does not take long to master the basics.”

Indeed. As a trainee, I was assigned real drafting files. The open door policy in the office means that juniors can get help and guidance when needed. A collegiate culture also promotes the belief that no question is stupid. Yes, it is daunting at times when clearing officers put questions to me, but that always challenges me to prepare ahead.

Inquisitiveness put to good use

Surely and steadily, I have become more familiar with a drafter’s duties. In a way, being a drafter is not that different from being a translator. Both require a curious mind and the ability to articulate concepts. The golden rule of being a good translator is “to know something of everything and to know everything of something”. I find that applies equally to my current role, because a drafter’s portfolio can encompass all policy areas. What makes a drafter’s work perhaps more fulfilling is that we get to dig deeper into the policy behind drafting instructions, instead of just accepting them as they are.

Gradually I have learned to ask questions that make a difference. Getting more skilled at my work brings satisfaction. On top of that, a sense of achievement also comes from knowing that the work I do matters.

The work I do means something

As a junior, I sometimes get to work alongside my experienced counterparts on legislation that has major impacts. Usually I handle the Chinese text. Working on the Regulations under the Prevention and Control of Disease Ordinance (Cap. 599) has been the most memorable so far.

In the spring and summer of 2020, legislative frameworks were urgently needed for our city’s efforts to combat the epidemic. The race was on. Adrenaline levels mounted. Strangely, I found myself quietly enjoying tackling these Herculean tasks. Partly because I liked it when colleagues from different departments collaborated for a common goal, and partly because I knew that what we did was important. That hit home when I heard newscasters read from the Regulations on television.

However, just because I contributed to something that reached the general public is no reason to be smug. Rather, it is exactly because of our wide audience that we drafters constantly contemplate whether our writing can be improved. That never-ending quest for clarity is like an artist’s pursuit of sublime beauty.

For that, I know I have embarked on the right path.