“In a way, I feel like Forrest Gump.” It’s 9:00 a.m. in Vancouver and midnight in Hong Kong, and this is Olivia Lee on the line, head of the China and Hong Kong Capital Markets practice and the Hong Kong Mergers & Acquisitions and Corporate practices for White & Case LLP. Maybe it’s the time difference, or a bad connection. Hello?
“I happened to be [involved] in a lot of things which I didn’t expect at all,” Lee starts to explain, “a lot of memorable events, meeting a lot of very interesting people.” Cue the Prime Ministers. Roll film. Aaand … action.
People’s great hall, beijing, china. 1994. Olivia lee shakes hands with prime minister chretien, the minister of immigration, the minister of trade and other delegates from team canada. General toasting, and popping of camera flashbulbs. Repeat scene every two years through 2002. Chang an street, beijing, china. 1995. Olivia lee and osler renault partner brian mulroney have just left the international herald tribute’s china submit conference and are escorted by police and government body guards to meet with key prc ministers.interior convention centre, hong kong. July 1, 1997. Cbc television interviews OLIVIA LEE about how the HANDOVER will change Hong Kong’s economic, social and political landscape. “All the Asian countries went through the Asian crisis, but it had nothing to do with the handover,” Lee says now. “My prediction was that Hong Kong would not change much—life as usual—so I think it was quite accurate.”
Olivia Lee has a knack for being in the right place at the right time. Or maybe it’s an ability to be in several places at once. She did a combined LL.B. and B.Comm.—a pairing UBC doesn’t offer any more—earning over 25 scholarships and awards. At the same time, she headed the LSLAP clinic in Chinatown, hosted a Rogers Cable TV show called Chinatown Today and served as secretary for the BC Table Tennis Association. She spent her summers conducting research for Professor John Hogarth, developing databases of sentencing and trade law information. The work brought her in close contact with judges and lawyers all over the province, and gave her a first-hand look at how technology could benefit the legal profession. “I spent five out of seven days with … extracurricular activity,” says Lee. “I got to know a lot of people in the community and the business world even before I graduated, which … helped to build my practice and my network.”
Lee is a Solicitor of the Supreme Court of England and Wales, and of the High Court of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. Before 1997, when Hong Kong was still a British colony, Commonwealth lawyers could qualify relatively easily in the UK, which allowed them to apply for admission to the Hong Kong Supreme Court. “That window of opportunity only opened for a few years,” Lee acknowledges. True to form, she flew right through it.
Success means more to Lee when she can help others achieve it as well. She has spent 15 years providing legal services on inbound and outbound capital markets and securities transactions, corporate finance, mergers and acquisitions, listing of investment funds and debt restructurings in such industries as natural resources, pharmaceuticals, biotechnology, telecommunications, media and entertainment, real property and transportation. “Last year and this year,” she says, “I helped a Hong Kong company acquire two businesses each involving $500 million US. I’m really acting like a bridge to help people in both directions to succeed in other parts of the world.”
Still very connected to the Canadian community through the Chinese Canadian Association and the Canadian International School, Lee would also like to be a bridge between her alma mater and the international business world. “Whenever I receive a résumé from a [UBC] student, I always put more efforts to recommend that student to my firm and my clients,” she says. “I would like to see more UBC Law graduates become successful lawyers or in-house counsel in the bigger international and global community.” Forrest Gump’s mama said life is like a box of chocolates; you never know what you are going to get. Seems Olivia Lee is happy to share.
Written by Diane Haynes and originally published in the UBC Law Alumni Magazine, Fall 2005.