Hong Kong has long been an attractive destination for expats from all over the world, and Australian lawyers are starting to join the flock.
Making the move overseas is always a scary one, but if you’re heading to a place not too far away, with a strong expat community, impressive pay and fantastic culture, it makes it all the easier.
This might describe Hong Kong for many Australian lawyers: the legal industry in Hong Kong is strong and busy, and Australian lawyers are warmly welcomed, able to practice under their Australian qualifications from the day they arrive.
Geoff Denton, a senior consultant at Taylor Root, says Australian lawyers often find the work on offer in Hong Kong is “more substantial and challenging compared to Australia”.
“Cross-border transactions and dispute work is the norm, with lawyers regularly dealing in multi-jurisdictions and with colleagues around the world. It really is an international job, which appeals,” he says.
He also stresses that salaries in Hong Kong are much higher than in Australia, which can be a key drawcard for some.
“We have seen lawyers move over with pay rises of over AUD$100,000. With a tax rate of no more than 15 per cent, the attraction from a remuneration perspective is high.”
All about finances
Hong Kong has long been considered one of the world’s financial hubs. Because of this, banking and finance work is always on the cards for lawyers, as is M&A.
“Hong Kong is constantly moving and busy,” says Nathan Peart, a consultant at Major, Lindsey & Africa’s Hong Kong office.
“It has a great energy about it that encourages business and opportunity. Every week the deal summaries are in the billions of dollars and feature Asia-based clients doing deals on a global scale.”
Mr Denton emphasises the opportunities in the fast-paced finance world.
“You only have to look across the city skyline to see how many banks and financial institutions are based here.
“In fact, Hong Kong is home to the highest concentration of banking institutions in the world.”
For Australian lawyers moving to Hong Kong to work, Mr Denton suggests it’s relatively easy for them to find employment.
“Australian lawyers have a great reputation in Hong Kong. They are hard-working, have sound education and are commercially minded. This combination really appeals to partners.”
However, these partners tend to be at the global firms – Mr Denton says local firm roles typically require fluency in Chinese language due to their nature of work and client base.
Mr Peart agrees that the familiar global brand-name firms are typically where Australian lawyers find jobs in Hong Kong.
“The training and quality of work is very high at these firms and in line with what Australian lawyers would have experienced at home,” he says.
“The firms offer a brilliant platform to develop your career and provide you with options in the future, whether that be locally, returning home or moving to a new location.”
Australian lawyers are entitled to practice without qualification in Hong Kong, according to Mr Denton, and go by the title of Registered Foreign Lawyer.
“However, it is true that firms here would encourage Hong Kong qualification also, particularly if you are going to be involved in dispute work,” he says.
The process for becoming a Hong Kong qualified lawyer is relatively straight forward, according to Mr Denton, with Australian lawyers only needing to pass an examination and satisfy a short-term residency requirement.
“With Hong Kong’s legal system based on common law, the exam shouldn’t be too much of a problem for Australian lawyers at all.”
Australian lawyers are also required to obtain a visa to work in Hong Kong, but both Mr Denton and Mr Peart believe they are relatively straightforward to get, with the visa process usually taking a maximum of six weeks and the law firm usually organising it on behalf of the incoming lawyer.
“Visas are not too hard to get hold of, you just need a company [law firm] to sponsor you,” Mr Peart says.
“It certainly seems there are fewer caps compared to the UK. There are local rules surrounding 50 per cent local hires and 50 per cent expats in offices, but firms tend to manage that well.”
In terms of language, Mandarin or Cantonese language skills are a bonus but not usually necessary to land a role, according to Mr Peart.
“Language is a very valuable asset for associate roles here and Mandarin would be greatly welcomed by most firms. Anybody who has fluent Mandarin is likely to have a number of great options available to them.”
He continues: “However, in terms of day-to-day language skills, English is commonly used and most things are printed in both English and Chinese.”
Mr Denton adds that most people might be surprised at how little local skills are required for day-to-day life on the island.
“The reality is, most people speak English and going about your daily life is relatively hassle-free without it,” he said.
Beyond the variety of work on offer and high demand for quality Australian lawyers, Hong Kong offers a wonderful lifestyle that ensures Australian lawyers working there also get a chance to enjoy themselves.
Mr Denton said that “Hong Kong offers a unique lifestyle”, and that there’s “never a dull moment”.
Its central location within Asia makes for cheap and easy travel and its close proximity to Australia makes it easy to remain in contact with friends and family.
“The time zone also works well with connecting with friends and family back home. This makes you feel as though you are not that far away at all,” Mr Denton says.
“There are other homely reminders you see on a day-to-day basis too, such as Australian sports on TV, and you’re able to buy the basics easily – think Vegemite, Tim Tams and Allens lollies.”
He adds that there are a lot of Australians already based in Hong Kong.
“The expat community in general in Hong Kong is especially strong in comparison to a lot of other jurisdictions.”
He says: “It is incredibly easy to meet people, and within a few weeks you have your own new friends in your home away from home with your social calendar full up within no time.”
Mr Peart emphasises that Hong Kong is a small city, making it simple to navigate. There are plenty of restaurants, bars and shopping options on your doorstep, and the beach and the countryside are never far away either, he explains.
“Those who are looking for a lifestyle move – Hong Kong is a great place to be,” Mr Peart says.
“Hong Kong has a real international feel to it, people are here from all over the world and it makes a great working environment. Most people you meet, both locals and expats, are well travelled and people are very welcoming.”
This article was first published in Lawyers Weekly in April 2016.
Catherine Davies, Senior Consultant - Sydney & International