Thought leadership from our experts

Q&A with Gabriela Kennedy

Gabriela Kennedy, Mayer Brown, Hong Kong

What drew you to the law?

This is my second career. I read English and French at uni. I used to write plays and translate poetry. I then shifted to theoretical linguistics (this is how the mind acquires Language – the capital L is essential!) and somehow ended up doing computational linguistics. I came to Hong Kong ("cherchez l'homme!") and no uni had a serious theoretical linguistics department so I studied law. The rest is history. I still use my languages and the analytical skills acquired from studying theoretical linguistics come in handy, but I no longer write fiction. Well, not much….

What would you say was one of your most interesting cases?

There are many – I have been in the law for 20 years now. As a first year associate I ran a copyright infringement case that involved a local pop star. The case went to speedy trial in 3 months! We won but it was a Phyrric victory as the damages we got were not high and when we appealed the case was in the news a lot – my clients were the publishers of a newspaper and the case involved a scoop photograph copied by a rival newspaper. There were lots of comments about the behavior of paparazzi given that the appeal hearing took place around the time of Princess Diana's funeral. Obiter comments in the appeal judgment called for a privacy law in Hong Kong. A few months later the Personal Data (Privacy) Ordinance was enacted – and while it did not establish a right of privacy per se, I felt privileged to have worked on the case that validated the passing of the law that now guarantees the privacy of personal data in Hong Kong.

What do you like about your practice area?

I like the variety of my practice – I do the whole spectrum of IP both transactional and contentious, lots of media work – I have done the most representative contentious media cases including the only case to-date to address the anti-competition provisions in the Broadcasting Ordinance, lots of data privacy work which is challenging given the nature of data flows nowadays and huge IT projects (handling a GBP 54 million project as a 4 year associate was thrilling).

Whom do you consider to be your role model–legal or otherwise?

My grandmother. She was a fierce woman and would have been a business tycoon had she been born in a different time and in a different place. The daughter of a farmer – she finished high school, married at 18, had 11 children (only 3 survived) and tried her hand at many jobs. At one point she acquired a few vineyards and made a go of that – vicissitudes of war meant she lost everything overnight. She lived to be 94 and relished life like no one I have met so far. At 75 she did volunteer work in Israel looking after 'old people' (some younger than her). She read voraciously all her life and towards the end of her life she was nearly blind but would still read every day. She dabbled in various businesses well into her 70s and hiked into her 80s.

What is the best piece of advice you've ever received?

If you come in second it means you have lost.

What advice would you give to young lawyers?

Be curious, humble, open to change , ask questions and do not take anything for granted.

What are the biggest changes you've seen in the practice of law during your career?

The emergence of the 'oil tanker' law firm – their sheer size is extraordinary, their force unparalleled – but making them take a 'U' turn – now that is a challenge!

What do you consider your most significant accomplishment?

I am still working on it – trying to perfect my arm stand by the end of the year.