Royal Reed established Prestige Law in 2006. Royal is a Taiwanese-New Zealand
lawyer and businesswoman. She is a Member of the Arbitrators’ and Mediators’
Institute of NZ INC, sits on the board of Kea New Zealand and is frequently
interviewed by radio and television programmes for her legal expertise on New
Zealand/China legal matters.
NZLS Auckland Branch talks to Royal about her career, some of the issues facing
Asian clients in New Zealand and her latest initiative to develop an Asian lawyers
1. You established Prestige Law in 2006. From your experience, what are some of the common legal issues that Asian immigrants and investors alike encounter in New Zealand?
The most common barriers that Asian investors and migrants face when they come to
New Zealand is that they come from a background where a lawyer is not as relevant
or compulsory in their dealings. It is very strange to them that buying a house or a
business, or making trust or asset arrangements, needs a lawyer. They come from a
place where a lot of things can be quite simply documented and work with much more
free style of documentation. The need for a lawyer is usually associated with people
who are potentially criminals or are in some severe trouble for their business dealings.
They are very unaware of the role that a lawyers play in NZ and why they should
have a lawyer pretty early on.
2. What advice would you give to New Zealand businesses going into or entering
the Chinese market?
It’s a very similar to the advice that I would give to my Chinese business people new
to New Zealand – don’t assume that your friendly contact, whether it’s through a
homestay, tutor your kids had, or some lovely person you come to meet through your
friend’s party, would be your best point of reference in understanding your
obligations in dealings with Chinese opportunities. The Chinese market has been
hugely tempting because of its size, the idea of being able to expand to a much bigger
market appeals to many small operators in New Zealand.
But a big market comes with bigger challenges. If you’re struggling in a small market
– you’re unlikely to find an easier time in a bigger market. I always give this analogy
to my New Zealand clients who have an impossibly amazing offer from China. If it
sounds too good to be true, it is too good to be true. There is also a language barrier
where everything you say or sign is going to be interpreted in another language.
Many Chinese are criticised in New Zealand for signing things they don’t fully
understand but Kiwis do that all the time, in front of Chinese deals. You need a lot of
bilingual support. And many of the Kiwi businesses rely on their homestay friends,
their neighbors and friends that came from China. Those informal arrangements are
usually free but the most expensive advice is free advice.
3. In your view, what are some useful ways or methods of overcoming language
and/or cultural differences when it comes to legal matters?
When it comes to dealing with cultural and language barriers it is often a very
challenging space to accurately communicate the truth. Sometimes the inability to
share the truth is caused by the language barrier. Other times, unwillingness to share
the truth is caused by the cultural barrier. The biggest problem is the lack of ability to
spend enough time to really get through those barriers and get to the real truth. There
are always many layers, even for me.
I speak Chinese and can freely talk to my clients but when I have to translate the
English concept of our legal terminology, rules, legal system, and our moral codes,
difficulties may arise. Culturally, many are scared and are not going to open up so
quickly, because they don’t know how much to trust a lawyer. They do not always
understand the need to trust a lawyer therefore they don’t understand the protection of
confidentiality, loyalty, conflict of interest and all these rules and frameworks that
protect us from ever harming our clients.
Because of these barriers I need more than two initial consultations or two important
consultations over important topics I need to canvas with my clients. I am sometimes
criticised for spending too much time for something that seems to be straightforward.
Of course, we take it for granted that many of the kinds of questions that a lawyer
needs to ask a client are confidential and many of these questions to us are very
logical and normal, but for many who are unfamiliar with New Zealand it’s quite
scary to be asked to give everything.
4. You have received numerous awards and honours for your work – what are
some of the personal highlights for you?
My personal highlight was when I realised that we all have a role to play when it
comes to using our legal skills, to service those people who might need us. Most of
the endorsement and recognition we get is from actually fulfilling a need in the legal
family where we all play our part. For example, when I was able to assist the Court as
a litigator by helping the Court realise when translators are tired, or shocked by the
way the lawyers communicate with each other, or with witnesses.
They are completely lost in translation even though they are competent translators.
Lawyers are very good at making sentences sound difficult and impossible to
translate. Often the most literal translation is the wrong translation. If the Judge tells a
witness, “Just tell your story. I realise that this might be your first day in Court, just
tell your story.” The translator may say “The Judge wants you to relax and you can
say anything you like.” I have seen many really concerning gaps in translations that
result in a different understanding of the evidence that day. A personal highlight for
me is seeing more and more bilingual counsels and hopefully one-day bilingual
Judges, as we are now a multi-cultural community.
5. What work place initiatives are you and your team most proud of?
One of our support staff recently became a mother and found the cost and logistics of
juggling motherhood and work was quite difficult. So, we invited her back to work
with her new four-month old baby accompanying her. We are all human and our
work-life balance is very important so we are making these small changes in order to
be a bit more generous to ourselves. We are trialling this and hope to make this option
available to our other colleagues who prefer to work around their parenting
6. What was the reason you chose the legal profession as a career?
Initially I wanted to become a diplomat for Taiwan. When I was in Taiwan I studied
politics, but when I came to New Zealand I was intrigued by the quality of the
Auckland Law Library, and some of the smart people that I met in the New Zealand
legal community. I was inspired by how articulate some of these legally trained
people were and how capable they were at communicating.
As someone who aspired to become a diplomat I wanted to be able to be trained at
that level to be able to communicate well. Whilst I didn’t become a diplomat I now
have my own international relations in my house as I married a Kiwi.
I still aspire every day to learn from those in the legal industry and improve my ability
to communicate – this is an on-going journey with English as a second language I
always learn something every week when I stop and ask my colleague, “What does
that mean?” or “Why was is it put that way?” I like the depths of law and the legal
7. You have been discussing the idea of developing an Asian lawyers support
group in association with The NZLS Auckland Branch. Was that initiated by
you, and why?
I have been in this space of the Auckland District Law Society for maybe 15 years so
the majority of my career as a practitioner is here. I have found that Auckland lawyers
can be very isolated because our city is comparatively big and difficult to get around.
There are many professional engagement opportunities that we can do – such as
seminars and socials – but again I think we are doing less and less of that. We tend to
do seminars through the Web so we don’t waste time stuck in traffic but I think we
have lost a lot of face-to-face contact and we have become more and more isolated,
despite technology supposedly bringing us closer.
I work with quite a lot of young ethnic lawyers and I have also received a lot of law
clerk enquiries – people who seek career mentoring to figuring out whether they want
to work in the Asian community or in Kiwi companies and firms. I have always been
someone that people go to for a chat. I met many young ethnic lawyers early in my
career but have lost contact due to work and other commitments.
Often I have noticed that the Asian lawyers are very shy when things are difficult.
The cultural expectation is that you should share your success and not your fears, but
it is in those moments of stress that we need the most support. We have friends at the
Law Society level, but those people are senior and very, very busy and many of them
wouldn’t understand, with the greatest respect, some of the unique challenges that
Asian lawyers face. Many of us are bilingual and may take roles traditionally reserved
for legal support when it comes to translation and many of us provide moral support
to clients who are going through difficult patches and we have a horrible habit of not
This is another layer of support and mentoring that is where people can be just a bit
more comfortable – maybe a cup of tea, listening to one another or talking to a senior
practitioner, listening to a social worker or having a discussion about new laws. This
gives people an additional reason and excuse to give themselves a little bit more
access to some of the practitioners who might understand similar obstacles, similar to
the Women’s Association or Property Law Section.
Initially I expected significantly less interest in an Asian Lawyers support group but I
have received only positive responses. I am hoping to have the support of the NZLS
Auckland Branch and I’m happy to utilise my offices due to the location being so
close to both the Court and Law Society. Many of my Asian lawyers friends tend to
be in sole practice very early in their career. From my personal experience that’s very
common, because you are not necessarily getting a lot of opportunities in many of the
firms and are often doing social support, language support and other support work
because of your unique background.
Many Asian lawyers prefer to have a bit more liberty so that they can juggle maybe
family businesses or family travels. Many of us are alone from early on and those sole
practitioners don’t tend to have a lot of time inside business hours.
8. How is the process going so far, how many lawyers are likely to be in the
group and what are you hoping to achieve in the near future?
It is quite early in the process. I have spoken to approximately 30 Asian lawyers that I
know personally and I’m still going through the process of meeting up with some of
them. The plan is to have a meeting and we are hoping that the NZLS Auckland
branch can help us spread the word about an Asian Lawyer Association. I am looking
at the model of the Australian Asian Lawyers Association, which became quite a
useful channel for information that can be shared with the wider legal community. We
may need to operate as a platform for specialists from the New Zealand legal family
to come and support us and give us a bit more targeted help in areas that where we
might like to reach out. Equally, I think that Asian lawyers collectively come with a
wealth of experience and knowledge. So, I think it would be more of a creation of
collegial resources, that is good for the Asian lawyers – as well as for those who might
need to deal with Asian matters.
9. What future changes, if any, do you think could be made to further improve
the legal profession?
An immediate area that concerns me, as an Asian lawyer, is that we really need to
have a proper system to screen and detect the incompetent translators in our legal
system. At the moment, if you have an Asiatic appearance and you have basic
language skills and say that you can translate, and you have a listing in the Yellow
Pages, you are pretty much going to get on a Court list. We don’t have a wellregulated
body checking for legal interpretation skills Often important trials are at the
mercy of the quality of the translator.
Any practitioner who is interested in supporting Royal’s initiative to develop an Asian
Lawyers support group please contact her on: Email: firstname.lastname@example.org or