Hong Kong

Hong Kong – A Lawyer’s Guide to Work and Life


What’s it like to be a deal lawyer in Hong Kong compared to, say, in New York?

The most significant difference is in the level of responsibility that associates get at earlier phases of their careers. Third-year M&A associates in New York BigLaw could be drafting disclosure schedules, or sections of merger agreements governing representations, warranties, and indemnities. In Hong Kong, that same associate could be quarterbacking a merger transaction and running the primary deal documents.

This is a function of necessity – offices and practice groups in Hong Kong are smaller.  In New York, you might see three junior associates, two mid-level associates, one senior associate / counsel, and one partner staffed on the same merger transaction. In Hong Kong, a deal of that size might be staffed by one associate, one counsel / junior partner, and one more senior partner.

Some practices in Hong Kong also will give associates a blend of M&A and US capital markets work. An associate in one of these practice groups will need to adopt a roll-up-my-sleeves attitude and jump in with gusto into each deal that comes in through the door. Depending on the prevailing market deal-flow, an associate’s practice may be 75% M&A, 75% capital markets, or a more equal mixture of the two. Associates who are practice-agnostic will do well under this setup, as well as associates who see the value in cultivating an Asia-focused mixed practice as opposed to siloing themselves off in one group or another.

Living In Hong Kong

Ten years ago, most Hong Kong-based professionals lived in or around the Mid-Levels. They took the Mid-Levels Escalator to Central and grabbed their morning coffees at the Alexandra House Starbucks before heading into their offices for a long day of work.

While the Alexandra House Starbucks remains a hive of activity, the expansion of the MTR (click here for a current map) means that Hong Kong professionals have much more choice when it comes to neighborhoods. The Mid-Levels and SoHo (short for ‘South of Hollywood Road’) are still a popular, if not obvious, choice. Apartments on Conduit or Robinson Road can’t be beat for amenities or convenience.

However, most of Hong Kong’s most dynamic neighborhoods can be found further afield: Sheung Wan (once named one of the 15 Coolest Neighborhoods in the World) is home to an array of art galleries, boutiques and exposed-brick cafes. It’s also home to Gough Street, arguably the coolest street in all Hong Kong.

If you want to be part of the “it” crowd, head to Sai Ying Pun – a neighborhood full of creative-cool coffeeshops, high-concept eateries, and craft cocktail joints.

The area surrounding Po Hing Fong and Tai Ping Shan Streets in Sheung Wan was once commonly referred to as “behind the basketball courts”. After an influx of pop-up shops and street art, everyone now calls it PoHo.

Wanchai has shed its seedy heritage and is now a culinary and arts mecca. In 2017, Vogue called Star Street “Hong Kong’s Most Global Neighborhood”. While we can think of many spots in the +852 deserving of that fusion crown, it’s hard to think of a place where so many international offerings are packed into so few square meters.

Ten years ago, Kennedy Town was a no-fly zone home to a handful of serviced apartments and not much else. Thanks to the recent MTR expansion and accessibility to attractions like Instagram Pier, K-Town’s popularity has exploded – especially among recent graduates seeking relatively cheaper rents compared to those found in Central.

Aside from excursions to Ocean Park, the JUMBO floating restaurant, and the Aberdeen Marina Club, there previously has been little reason to visit the Wong Chuk Hang neighborhood on Hong Kong’s south side. Thanks to the MTR expansion, Wong Chuk Hang and its spacious art galleries are now two short stops from Admiralty.

When Youre Not At Work

Let’s face it – as a BigLaw associate in Hong Kong, you’ll be spending a considerable chunk of time in the office. But it’s not all-work-and-no-play.

In Hong Kong, you’ll get around 15 bank holidays off each year, compared to the paltry 8 or 9 days off that people get in the USA. We say “around” because the number of days you get off for Lunar New Year can fluctuate depending on how much of the holiday falls on a weekend. Most of the time, you can count on getting two days off.

A favorite Hong Kong pastime is hiking. Hong Kong is 70% green space, much of which consists of its splendid country parks. A great way to spend a clear day is to hike the Dragon’s Back, an undulating 8.5k hike along a mountain ridge that resembles…you guessed it…a dragon’s back. The entry point is an easy MTR ride from Central and the hike itself offers spectacular views of Shek O and Big Wave Bay beaches. Reward yourself with a meal at Shek O Chinese & Thai Seafood afterward.

Happy Valley Racecourse is not just one of the world’s most profitable racetracks, it’s also the go-to event on a Wednesday evening for locals, expats, tourists, and seasoned gamblers. Post Time is 7:15, and the paltry HK$10 admission fee is waived after the fourth race.

Hong Kong Rugby Sevens (often in March, sometimes in April) is considered the top tournament on the World Rugby Sevens calendar. Unless you’re American, you’ll likely have an idea of how big a sporting event this is. The place to be (or avoid) is the South Stand on Sevens Saturday. Tradition dictates that everyone shows up in costume. Doors open at 7AM.

In 2013, the world’s biggest art fair chose Hong Kong as its newest outpost. For the past six years, Art Basel Hong Kong has attracted established and next-gen Asian artists as well as people eager to purchase, or, at least ogle, their offerings. Don’t miss the gallery events at the Pedder Building.

If you’re contemplating a Hong Kong move, please reach out to Alexis Lamb at alexis@jowersvargas.com. Alexis practiced law as a US Capital Markets associate at Linklaters’ Hong Kong office before transitioning into recruiting. She lived in Hong Kong for five years and would be happy to share with you her insider knowledge of living and working in the Fragrant Harbour. Further, our co-founders Evan Jowers (evan@jowersvargas.com) and Alejandro Vargas (alejandro@jowersvargas.com) both are based in Hong Kong. Alejandro has been living in Hong Kong for more than a decade.

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