Are you a lawyer thinking about making the move to Hong Kong? I was recently interviewed on the topic. Below is a transcript that you may find useful.
What attracts lawyers to want to make the move to Hong Kong?
Hong Kong offers a unique lifestyle, with excellent eateries and bars that mix with a Western and Asian culture. It’s never a dull moment in Hong Kong. This is on top of the added bonus of cheap and easy travel options throughout Asia.
The time zone for Europeans and Australians 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. There are other homely reminders you see on a day-to-day basis too, such as sports on TV and you’re able to buy the basics easily (think Vegemite, Tim Tams for Aussies and M&S for the Brits).
Apart from this, the work on offer in Hong Kong is often more substantial and challenging compared to other common law jurisdictions. 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.
What type of firms are expat lawyers most likely to work at – are there any opportunities among local firms or just globals?
I would say three general “types” of firms: US firms, international firms (usually headquartered in the UK) and offshore firms. Expat lawyers generally have a great reputation in Hong Kong. They are hard-working, have sound education and are commercially minded. This combination really appeals to Partners.
There are opportunities in local firms of course, although these roles will typically require fluency in Chinese language – mainly due to their nature of work and client base.
How difficult is it to get qualified to practice in Hong Kong?
The process is relatively straight forward if you wish to become Hong Kong qualified for common law qualified lawyers. Lawyers will need 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 at all.
UK/NZ/Australian lawyers are entitled to practice without qualification in Hong Kong (and have a title such as “Registered Foreign Lawyer”), although it’s true that firms here would encourage Hong Kong qualification also, particularly if you are going to be involved in dispute work.
What kind of work/what practice areas are most in demand?
This is market dependent of course, but lately we have seen a big demand for corporate M&A, banking & finance, DCM, funds, insolvency & restructuring and TMT lawyers. The minimum level of experience typically required for these positions across the board has been at least 2 years’ experience.
Is Hong Kong still considered one of the world’s financial hubs? Is this where to go for the billion-dollar deals?
Absolutely. 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.
Hong Kong is the gateway to mainland China, and with the continued growth of the China market and ever increasing influence on Hong Kong, this is set to continue.
How difficult is it to get a visa? How much of a problem are language barriers?
The visa process usually takes 6 weeks at most, and is not difficult at all. The firm will take care of all of this on behalf of the incoming lawyer, and will even assist with family members that are dependant.
Most people think that without being able to speak Mandarin or Cantonese, it would be a struggle. The reality is, most people speak English and going about your daily life is relatively hassle free without it. For instance, everywhere is signed in English and menus are all in English and some helpfully will have photos too.