Rebecca Thompson Director, Hong Kong, legal recruitment...
John Clayton, Director, gives his thoughts on 5 questions frequently asked by lawyers considering a move to Hong Kong:
1. Do I need Mandarin or Cantonese language skills?
Over the last 10 years, the HK legal market has changed significantly as A) the amount of China-facing work has increased and B) the supply of US, UK and AUS-trained lawyers with Chinese language skills has increased. Both factors have contributed to the present situation, whereby many law firms cite Chinese proficiency as either a prerequisite or a preference. That being said, we are frequently instructed on positions where these skills are not necessary, or are a low priority, particularly in niche areas of practice. Ultimately, the stronger your profile re: academics, law firm background, experience, PQE relative to the vacancy in question e.t.c, the less you’ll have to rely on Chinese language skills (or lack thereof!).
2. What are salary / remuneration packages like?
Salaries in Hong Kong largely mirror the London market, albeit with taxes standing at effectively 11-12% which makes the market more appealing. Expat packages, where housing or COLA (cost of living allowance) is included, are rarer than in days gone by, when HK might have been considered more of a challenging post. The quality of work, coupled with numerous career and lifestyle benefits, mean firms in HK simply don’t need to offer substantial financial incentives to induce lawyers to move there. Indeed, HK is now so well established as an expat hub that we have successfully assisted lawyers who had never been to Asia previously.
3. What are the benefits of working in Hong Kong rather than somewhere like London, Sydney or New York?
A long article could we written on this subject alone, but for the sake of brevity, a commonly-cited ‘top 3’ would be as follows:
Firstly, lawyers can enjoy a diverse client base within a relatively fast-moving region, which makes the work continually interesting and stimulating. HK is something of a hub for the Asia region, meaning your colleagues and clients will come from a variety of backgrounds and cultures.
Secondly, as firms often have smaller offices and teams in HK compared to their NY/SYD/LDN equivalents, your exposure to clients and responsibility on matters is increased, thus accelerating your career development. One lawyer we assisted on moving out of London remarked on having attended more lunches, dinners and client functions in his first 2 months than in his last 2 years practising in the UK, where he’d largely been desk-based.
Thirdly, expat life in HK has numerous benefits on a personal level. People are clustered relatively closely together and have similar circumstances, meaning there is a thriving social scene to be enjoyed. The opportunities to travel across a diverse and fascinating continent are abundant, and within relatively easy reach both in terms of cost and flight times. Finally, for a fairly small sum an expat in HK can have full-time childcare and household help, creating the opportunity for both people in a couple to maintain their careers.
4. What is the cost of living like?
This varies considerably depending on personal preferences and circumstances, including the extent to which you are willing to live as a local, and whether you move with children. Overall, the cost of food, travel and day-to-day expenses is lower in HK, but the cost of accommodation is higher, which many say roughly balance out, perhaps with HK coming out slightly ahead when the lower income tax is factored in.
5. What practice areas are in demand?
From the standpoint of an international lawyer, experience in areas such as litigation, real estate or employment are not especially transferable given these tend to be ‘local’ practice areas. Some practice areas like international arbitration or energy projects are cross-border in nature and thus more transferable, although rarer in HK as Singapore is such a major hub for these fields. Capital Markets, M&A, general corporate, banking & finance and shipping are all in consistent demand among firms in HK, so experience in these areas should stand you in good stead for a move.