Gladys Li studied law at and graduated from Cambridge University. She was called to the Bar of England and Wales after which she practised as a barrister in chambers in London for 10 years before returning home to Hong Kong in 1982 where she entered full-time practice as a barrister. Shortly thereafter, she became a member of the Bar Council.
Her professional practice in human rights and administrative law began when she acted for Vietnamese asylum-seekers in the late 1980s and early 1990s. At the same time, she took a keen interest in Hong Kong’s future after the Joint Declaration and became a member of the Lobby Group set up to inform British MPs about the importance of the rule of law in Hong Kong, the absence of human rights protections and the lack of democracy. In 1995 and 1996, she became Chairperson of the Hong Kong Bar Association.
As a member of the Article 23 Concern Group set up with fellow lawyers, she contributed to writing pamphlets to inform the public about the criminal offences which the HKSAR was expected to legislate for under the Basic Law Article 23.
She is a founding member of Civic Party and a member of HK2020, of which Mrs. Anson Chan, former chief secretary, is the convener.
She co-authored a chapter on the legal status of Functional Constituencies in “Functional Constituencies A Unique Feature of the Hong Kong Legislative Council”, published by Hong Kong University Press in 2006 and has appeared in cases before and after the handover challenging aspects of the functional constituency system of election.
She continues to practise in the field of constitutional and administrative law and human rights. She is also a member of the Board of Civic Exchange.