SENIOR Counsel Cheng Huan, 64, advises fresh Law graduates, especially the shy and diffident ones, to dabble in other fields before practising.
He speaks from experience as the barrister worked as a journalist before he joined the legal profession after graduating from Trinity Hall, Cambridge University. He is in his third decade of practising mainly criminal law in Hong Kong.
"First hone your interpersonal skills, widen your horizons and learn to deal with people," says Cheng Huan, who was appointed Queen's Counsel in 1988. (The title of Queen's Counsel was changed to that of Senior Counsel when China regained her sovereignty over Hong Kong in 1997.)
Former Solicitor General Sir Denys Roberts, who was the last non-Chinese Chief Justice of Hong Kong, agrees with Cheng Huan. In his foreword to Cheng Huan's book Defending The Law, Sir Denys notes: "... I know a lawyer... who ate human flesh and then successfully defended someone who was accused of eating a fisherman."
The highlight of Teluk Intan-born Cheng Huan's career was his court appearances in the high-profile Hong Kong cases of HKSAR v Li Man Tak and HKSAR v Shum Chiu. As a result of these cases, new legislation to legalise the use of covert surveillance by Hong Kong's law enforcement agencies was introduced with the Interception of Communications and Covert Surveillance Ordinance. This was one of the most controversial and significant additions to legislation in Hong Kong in recent decades.
Another of his cases, which caught media attention, was that of the trial of movie star-cum-singer Nicholas Tse, who was charged with conspiracy to pervert the course of public justice by allowing his chauffeur to "falsely present" himself, in substitution for the artiste, as the driver in the investigation of a traffic accident in March 2002.
Due to the silver-tongued lawyer's success in the courtroom, the media often refer to him as Golden Tooth, the characters of which are often incorporated in the business names of law firms in China.
Cheng Huan has worked as a journalist for the Far Eastern Economic Review (FEER), Asiaweek and was China correspondent for The Guardian of Britain.
"When I arrived at Kai Tak airport in Hong Kong from London in 1971, FEER had arranged a helicopter to take me to my hotel!" adds Cheng Huan.
He got his greatest scoop when he was the first to report the death of Chairman Mao Tse Tung's second-in-command Marshal Lin Piao. "The world media picked up the story. It appeared on front pages across the globe and I had the great satisfaction of listening to the BBC World Service news quoting it," says Cheng Huan.
He answers questions on his schooldays:
Yaqin: Which primary and secondary schools did you attend?Cheng Huan: I attended the Anglo-Chinese Primary Schools in Teluk Intan and Seremban, and St Andrew's Institution in Singapore. The secondary schools I went to were Anglo-Chinese (Ipoh) and Salisbury College in England.
Yaqin: Did you have a favourite teacher and why did you like him/her?Cheng Huan: Mr Glover in Ipoh. Because he was slightly eccentric, I remember everything he taught (Geography). He loved travelling and would always send us exotic postcards of the places he visited.
Yaqin: What subject(s) did you like at school?Cheng Huan: History.
Yaqin: Were you rewarded for good performance by your parents? If yes, in what way. Cheng Huan: Yes, when I passed my Primary Six, my father gave me a watch but two days later I was robbed of it in Sennett Estate, Singapore.
Yaqin: What was your best (and worst) school holiday? Cheng Huan: Every school holiday was the best. I cannot recall ever having a bad holiday.
Yaqin: What hobbies did you have while at school? Cheng Huan: Stamp collecting.
Yaqin: What was your ambition while schooling?Cheng Huan: To be a doctor.
Yaqin: If you were to live your schooldays all over again, is there anything you would like to change?Cheng Huan: Yes. My disciplinary master, who caned me, and compulsory cross-country running.