Chilwin Cheng—In the Spotlight

Practice Point

Chilwin Cheng—In the Spotlight

This month’s spotlight shines on Chilwin Cheng of Ascendion Law.

How did you first get involved with CLEBC?

I started as an articling student attending CLEBC conferences: criminal law, administrative law, evidence, experts, civil procedure, professional discipline, and trial advocacy. I took them all whenever I could. My employer supported me in registering for these learning opportunities, so I was very fortunate. I loved learning from the presenters and meeting other lawyers. I was thrilled to be invited to speak at the Administrative Law conference. Then, CLEBC allowed me to convene and co-chair the first Professional Discipline conference, which has since become an annual conference. I was also honoured to speak as the keynote speaker at the Charities conference and got to experience CLEBC from that perspective.

What are you currently working on (or have most recently worked on) with CLEBC?

I am chairing the first Data Analytics for Lawyers conference. We will be convening leading practitioners and experts in using statistical and quantitative methods in legal practice. This conference will marry my interest in computing, statistics, and forecasting and allow me to share this passion with the profession. I am also working on convening the first White Collar Criminal and Regulatory Defence conference for CLEBC sometime in 2023. This will be a great conference that will marry criminal and administrative lawyers in a fascinating aspect of practice.

What made you decide to become a lawyer?

For as long as I can remember, I wanted to be a lawyer. I had a keen interest in formal ethics, morality, politics, and philosophy, even at a very young age. As a teenager, this translated into a strong interest in government and law, as well as volunteering and community service.  Being a lawyer has given me opportunities to serve my clients, my profession, and my community in ways I could not have imagined when I was first called 25 years ago. I enjoy it as much today as my first day of practice.

What inspired you to focus your practice on criminal and regulatory litigation?

I have a deep interest in the relationship between the state and the individual. Criminal and regulatory law is the fine edge where the state’s coercive power meets individual interests. It is where the democratic will is imposed on the person, hopefully in an ethically legitimate fashion. In our modern welfare state, we have developed a complex system of regulations and administrative bodies to improve our daily lives. Still, it requires the participation of all persons. Law is the mechanism that enforces that participation – whether we want to or not. I find the study of this tension fascinating and the practice of this kind of law very intellectual and emotionally satisfying.

You have a strong interest and establish yourself as a leader in law practice innovation. Can you tell us more about that? 

Foremost, my interest in law practice innovation is always about improving access to justice. I have never supported the idea that we can improve access to justice by making lawyers charge less or earn less. While laudable, these exhortations will never allow supply to sufficiently meet demand within the current regulatory system. Instead, lawyers must improve the productivity of individual lawyers and legal organizations. For example, we have embraced artificial intelligence and automation technology at my firm to increase the productivity of individual lawyers. With these technologies, we can keep our staffing levels and real estate costs as low as possible. This lets our lawyers focus their energies on technical and creative analysis and less on administration.  This lowers costs for the client, costs for the firm, and improves effectiveness. Naturally, this leads me to study the role of systems, culture, habits, and processes employed and present in legal organizations. Hence, these studies get bundled together as legal innovations.

What is the most valuable advice you have received in your career?

In a trip we took together to attend a trial in Prince George, now Justice Peter Voith told me, “The biggest return you will ever get is the investment in yourself.” To paraphrase the rest, he referred to the investment in developing my own practice, continuously investing in my professional development with organizations like CLEBC, and living my personal life to the fullest – staying fit, playing sports, treasuring family and friends. I have tried to live that ethos today, and I try to pay it forward to the next generation of counsel.

So, you’re a boxer?

Yes. I am a registered athlete (Masters 40+) with Boxing BC, the body representing and regulating amateur boxing in BC. I started off to stay fit, but I love the competitiveness and the camaraderie of my fellow athletes and team members. Litigation and boxing share so much – a culture of being fiercely competitive, fighting within a framework of rules defined by honour, and developing friendships outside the field of battle, whether it be the courtroom or the ring. The two activities share strategies and tactics. I often use boxing analogies when explaining legal concepts and practice to my associates and sometimes to my clients. I have made the best friends for life in both spheres.