Q: How is your US legal qualification relevant to your role as Head of Compliance and Legal Counsel at Noble Group?
A: Being qualified in multiple jurisdictions has definitely given me an edge in handling cross-border work and the growing amount of compliance, anti-bribery to KYC, from AML to sanction procedures as well as leading the financial institutions. For example, US laws and regulations have extraterritorial effect and can apply to companies in APAC. Understanding US constitutional law helps greatly with the interpretation of US laws. In Global Markets and investment banking, New York law is commonly used as the governing law of contracts. For example, the market standard contract used for OTC derivatives commonly used New York law as the governing law. That kind of understanding is helpful to my daily work especially with the growing importance of US sanctions to companies operating in North Asia.
Q: What do you see is the substantial change of work in investment banks?
There is certainly a substantial change of work in investment banks particularly in Global Markets. As a Director of Legal at two top-tier investment banks, we have seen increased regulation of derivatives and equities brokerage which has shifted the focus from highly complex OTC derivatives to more vanilla derivatives which are capable of central counterparty clearing. This has transformed the work of derivatives and Global Markets lawyers towards advising on regulation and not merely working on transactions. This has meant more interaction with the Compliance Department who also deal with regulation.
Q: How has a New York Bar Qualification helped you?
A: After completing the Barbri course, I was eligible to be admitted to both the New York and Washington State Bar after sitting the local state exams of those states. It is not compulsory to get a New York Bar qualification for my role as in-house legal counsel and Global Head of Compliance especially since I was already qualified in Hong Kong, Australia and England. However, I believe it is always important to continue improving your legal skills throughout your career. Each person will have their own unique way to improve and develop their legal skills. Some prefer formal education by studying a Masters of Law and others prefer on the job experience. I like a combination of both but rather than study a Masters of Law and due to the cross-border nature of my work and the importance of US laws, I preferred to develop a practical US qualification. The ideal way to achieve this for me was to sit the New York Bar Barbri course which gave me a practical understanding of the US and New York state laws.
Q: What do you think are the important elements for a successful legal counsel? What do you see as the growing area for an in-house lawyer?
A: The key issue for any legal counsel is that they have to cover every single issue that comes to the door, whether it’s litigation, whether that’s a new business, a complex transaction, capital raising, etc. If there is sufficient time, the legal counsel might engage external counsel but there is more work for in-house lawyers then just dealing with the legal issues. The legal counsel must advise all units of the business from Operations, Risk, the Front Office teams, etc. The legal counsel must gather the organisations’ resources to deal with these issues so there is a lot of co-ordination work.
This means that being adaptable is very important in order to deal with a wide range of issues. It is also important for a legal counsel to have strong communication – both written and verbal. An ability to translate legal issues into terms that layman can understand is therefore very important. Simplifying these legal issues into key steps and plans is part of it as well as translating legal issues into dollar amounts.
Errol Bong certainly knows the meaning of hard work and he has pushed hard to get qualified as a practising lawyer in New York, England & Wales, Hong Kong, New South Wales, and Washington State. It was particularly taxing studying the New York Bar while working full time as a director in the General Counsel division at top tier investment banks. However, he explains that it is extremely important to manage individual work-life balance. He is currently the Global Head of Compliance & Legal Counsel at a leading global commodities trading house and after working at magic circle law firms and top tier investment banks, he can see the changes in banking and finance and the role of legal counsel and Compliance.