Jack Yong is an alumnus of the Peter A. Allard School of Law. He is currently a Partner and leader of the China Group with Lawson Lundell's Vancouver office, practicing corporate and commercial law. Jack has been recognized among Best Lawyers in Canada since 2019 for his work in Mergers & Acquisitions Law, and since 2020 for his work in Real Estate Law. He is also a recipient of the 2017 Lexpert Rising Star Award as one of Canada's Leading Lawyers under 40. Jack is an active member of several community, cultural, and industry initiatives in BC, and is currently on the board of A Better City, a new municipal political party in Vancouver. In this interview, Jack provides insight into his experiences as a corporate and commercial lawyer working closely with foreign investors and businesses.
CALS: What does your day-to-day look like as a corporate and commercial lawyer in a leading Canadian business law firm?
Jack: At Lawson Lundell’s China Group, we work closely with Chinese clients who have investments and acquisitions in Canada. While we primarily operate under Canadian laws, we have a lot of experience engaging with counsel in and the governing laws of other jurisdictions (e.g. Hong Kong, Singapore, the United States, and the United Kingdom) when working on cross-border transactions. Every day is different, with a wide variety of legal puzzles to sort out when helping clients with their challenges and opportunities.
Sometimes disputes arise between parties in a commercial relationship. When that happens, I work with colleagues who are litigators to resolve these disputes. However, there is a lot of planning that occurs before these important commercial relationships are established so we can address potential disputes. For instance, I will need to think about and advise on whether Canada is an appropriate governing jurisdiction for a particular transaction, how a joint venture or partnership should practically be structured, and what specific dispute resolution options should be in place in the event of a dispute (something that is particularly important given how our Chinese clients usually prefer to use alternative dispute resolution mechanisms rather than court processes).
CALS: What are some of the takeaways that you have gained from your experiences in interacting with Chinese investors and the intersections between Canadian and Chinese laws?
Jack: I think that flexibility and strong legal drafting skills are essential for any lawyer going into this area of law. In terms of cultural competencies, I would say that being able to understand and adapt the ideas of your clients so that they can operate successfully within Canada is crucial. Our Chinese clients often bring their own ideas and perspectives to the table—even if such ideas have worked in the Chinese legal system or market, I need to make sure that they can be adapted to work under Canadian laws as well.
Another takeaway is understanding the bargaining power of parties in transactions. Understanding how much each party wants, what the other party has, and all of the factors going into a deal are important for effectively representing your client’s interests.
What I really enjoy about my work is how much variety exists for practitioners in this area: there is quite a lot of room for creativity and problem-solving in transactional work, especially when dealing with clients from different backgrounds. My work is very interesting and rewarding because I get to learn from these clients. I am exposed to new business ideas and deal structures each day. There is a lot of learning that you can do as a corporate and commercial solicitor, and you can always apply this knowledge to other areas of law.
CALS: What inspired you to pursue a career as a corporate and commercial solicitor?
Jack: I always knew that I wanted to be a business lawyer, even before I went to law school. When I started working as an associate, I was working for Canadian clients only. However, as the presence of Chinese capital grew, I gradually did more work in the area and built up a network with colleagues and clients who come from a diverse range of backgrounds and industries. My career path was thus guided both by my passions and by new developments and trends.
CALS: You have volunteered with a diverse array of community and industry organizations - what led you to seek out those opportunities, and what lessons did you take away from those experiences that have helped you in your legal practice?
Jack: I always wanted to find a way to give back to the community and provide services that were not limited just to legal work. Lawyers are in high demand for pro bono services, and it really is just a matter of seeking out what interests you in terms of not-for-profit work. I have supported new immigrants, worked with the China Group to sponsor a refugee family, and am currently on the board of advisors for the Educating Girls of Rural China Society. I think that lawyers bring more than just legal skills in helping their community. For example, they tend to be organized, think critically, and are results-oriented.
CALS: What do you think are the most important qualities or assets that young lawyers should develop as they enter legal practice? Do you have any advice in general regarding how law students should approach their legal careers?
Jack: This may seem a bit of a cliché, but the only things that cannot be taught are attitude and work ethic. When I started out as a law student and young lawyer, I knew I didn’t bring much experience and knowledge to the table. All I could offer was my enthusiasm and my time. You can study and learn the law, but you need curiosity and the willingness to put in the time to create a good product.