Hong Kong Factsheet


Introduction to Hong Kong

Hong Kong needs no introduction to most lawyers – it has long been a favoured jurisdiction for those wishing to combine quality work within a top tier practice, with the unique lifestyle opportunities on offer from life in the region. Relatively high salaries; low taxation; generous holiday entitlement and a large number of public holidays and enviable geographical location together combine to provide all the ingredients for an irresistible career move.


The Legal Market


Most top-tier UK City firms, including the Magic Circle, have maintained a foothold in Hong Kong for some time. These offices typically provide a full service to clients. Key US players have complemented this presence in more recent years, albeit traditionally operating smaller offices than their UK counterparts, and focusing only on a limited number of practice areas, such as projects, and US Securities. A number of the large Australian firms have offices in Hong Kong, and in recent years the strongest local practices have shown a desire to recruit from overseas.

Lawyers specialising in all commercial practice areas will be marketable in the jurisdiction – the one exception is property law, where skills gained in common law jurisdictions are not considered easily transferable.

Chinese language skills are still highly valued and there are increasing opportunities for high quality lawyers who speak Mandarin or Cantonese.


Money Matters

In recent years firms have restructured their remuneration processes, in order to bring foreign ‘ex-pat’ lawyers more into line, financially speaking, with their local counterparts. The practical implications of this are simply that historic benefits such as housing allowance are usually no longer paid on top of salaries; the norm is now for salaries to be uplifted to take such benefits into account.

The local is Hong Kong Dollars (HKD), the exchange rate at time of printing is 1HKD = £0.08

Income tax for the 2007/2008 fiscal year is charged at the following rates:

Rates of Tax

2007/2008

First HK$35,000 at

2%

Next $35,000 at

7%

Next $35,000 at

12%

On the remainder

17%

Standard rate

16%


The maximum tax, however, is limited to tax at the standard rate (16%) on the net assessable income (after any business deductions) less concessionary deductions but without the deduction of personal allowances.

The cost of living in Hong Kong is lower than that of London. One misconception of the cost of living in Hong Kong is that housing is prohibitively expensive. Whilst this certainly used to be the case, the downturn in the property market over recent years, together with the consistently high levels of disposable income, means that decent rental property is now far more affordable for lawyers than it once was. Indeed, given the trends across most other housing markets in recent years, the Hong Kong market now compares far more favourably than a number of other Western jurisdictions in this respect.


Red Tape

Any person, other than those having the right of abode or right to land in Hong Kong, must obtain sponsorship from a law firm in order to obtain a visa before travelling to Hong Kong to take up employment. British citizens can stay as tourists in Hong Kong for up to 6 months without a visa. It is a requirement that lawyers wishing to practice Hong Kong law be locally qualified. Until such time a number of restrictions will operate: you will most likely be employed as a Registered Foreign Lawyer, or alternatively a paralegal, and in either case you will not be permitted to write letters of advice in your name, or to attend a client meeting unsupervised.

The overseas lawyers' exams are sat once a year in October/November. Registration for the exams must take place by the preceding July. To be eligible to sit the exams lawyers will need to have at least two years of either formal training or post qualification experience (or a combination of both) gained in their home jurisdiction. Papers are sat in conveyancing, criminal and civil litigation, company law and professional conduct, although, for lawyers with more than five years’ relevant experience, exemptions are available for all heads, effectively save for conveyancing.


After work

Although the working atmosphere in Hong Kong is perceived to be more relaxed than that in London, the hours worked are fairly similar to those worked in the City firms, with the exception that lawyers will work one or two Saturdays in every month, if required. Having said that, the culture is very much one of ‘work hard, play hard’, and moving to Hong Kong will often allow you to step into a ready made social life with your work colleagues.

The ‘play hard’ element of local life will usually attract many lawyers into one of the many bars or restaurants. Lan Kwai Fong is said by many to be the equivalent of London’s Soho, and is a natural focal point of the evening. Hong Kong does, however, cater for many other interests: it may come as a surprise to learn that there are spacious green parks and walking trails, golf courses and country clubs. Sports facilities can be surprisingly close at hand and so you can enjoy tennis, badminton or squash as well as using a high standard of private gym. For those who enjoy beach culture, the south side of the island has plenty to offer.


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