Lianjun Li is a senior partner and head of the transportation and commercial litigation department of Reed Smith Richards Butler in Hong Kong. He qualified as a solicitor in Hong Kong, and England and Wales. He has extensive experience in disputes relating to international trade, shipping (charterparty, bill of lading, ship purchase and sale, marine casualty), cross-border investments, and international commercial and maritime litigation and arbitration.
What inspired you to pursue a career in shipping law?
From 1980 to 1984, I pursued my bachelor of science degree in ocean ship navigation at Dalian Maritime University (DMU), the best-known maritime university in China. One of the subjects was maritime law. The maritime law course was very interesting to me. China did not have a maritime code in 1980s. DMU as a leading maritime institution in China decided to open a maritime law department. I was therefore offered by DMU to work as a maritime law assistance lecturer. I also became qualified as a second officer for oceangoing vessels after about two years work at seas. Shipping law is different from other areas of law, and requires deep shipping knowledge. I further studied maritime administration and law for four years in Sweden before I came to Hong Kong in January 1993 when I commenced my professional legal career as a shipping lawyer. My shipping background inspired me to pursue a career in shipping area.
What do clients look for in a shipping lawyer?
A good shipping lawyer should be familiar with the shipping market. As shipping lawyers we face the global market, and cross-border collaborations are required to provide timely and quality legal service to the clients. Therefore, we have to stay vigilant to any global or regional change that may affect the shipping market. Further, shipping is a 24/7 industry. Responsiveness to the clients’ instructions is paramount.
How has your experience as an arbitrator changed your approach to shipping disputes?
As an arbitrator, you have to look into all the evidence before you. Being an arbitrator, I can understand how another arbitrator will see the matter and make a finding based on the given fact and law.
How has covid-19 affected your practice? Do you expect any changes to remain long-term?
More clients have approached us for our advice on contractual terms to address issues such as trade limits, port closures, and various health and safety issues. Existing contracts may be affected by covid-19-related measures, and force majeure is an issue.
In terms of client management, I believe it will be more common for client meetings to be conducted via video conference. This can save time and costs, and is more efficient.
What arbitration procedural issues do you see arising from covid-19 where the majority of participants continue to live under lockdown?
The most obvious change is how a hearing is to be conducted during the lockdown period. Due to the travel restrictions imposed by various countries, parties in international arbitration – including representatives and witnesses – may not be able to travel abroad to physically attend the hearings.
Remote hearings using technological tools are thus very important for the arbitration to be conducted properly without delay. I have personally attended few remote hearings as an arbitrator or as the party’s legal representative.
Has your work on the Hong Kong Maritime and Port Board affected the way you see the future of the industry in Hong Kong?
It has been my great honour to serve as a member of the Hong Kong Maritime and Port Board. The government has been making efforts to sharpen Hong Kong’s edge as a major maritime services provider. I am confident that Hong Kong will continue to play a very important role in international shipping and in the Greater Bay Area of China.
What qualities make for a successful lawyer in today’s market?
One very important quality is to respond, in a timely manner, to a client’s need for the required legal service. To be a successful lawyer, one should also fully understand the clients’ goals and provide a legally and commercially viable solution to the clients.
You have enjoyed a very distinguished career so far. What would you like to achieve that you have not yet accomplished?
I have been a visiting professor to a few universities, and have given lectures at seminars and forums held by universities and professional organisations. I hope my lectures will assist young professionals and students in understanding the practical aspect of laws, and I hope I will continue to do this.