Bright lights, new city

November 28, 2011

Can a move to Hong Kong live up to its eastern promise?

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Today’s lawyers are a demanding bunch. Working for a top-tier firm in London may be great, for a few years at least. But for the ambitious and adventurous lawyer of the 21st century, it seems a career isn’t a career without at least some time spent working overseas.

And Hong Kong fits the bill in many respects. Its legal system, based on common law principles and statute, closely resembles that of England and Wales. This, combined with a more open legal market compared to mainland China, has made it relatively easy for UK law firms and UK qualified lawyers to make the move.

Not only that, but Hong Kong is exciting. Few would pass up the opportunity to work in such a dynamic East-meets-West metropolis. Especially one that of late has become full of international law firms, offering lawyers invaluable experience of a rapidly growing Asian market.

With the offer of a good salary (in a low tax regime), interesting and challenging work, a cosmopolitan lifestyle and excellent travel links to the rest of Asia, it’s hardly surprising that Hong Kong is a top destination for internationally-minded lawyers.

Relocation, relocation, relocation

For corporate lawyer Milena Radoycheva, left, the decision to accept a job in the Hong Kong office of Baker & McKenzie came quite naturally.

“Hong Kong interested me because I had a lot of experience in emerging markets work and because, relative to the UK (and the European market overall), the Hong Kong market is currently more dynamic,” says Radoycheva.

“There seems to be a general feeling in London that going forward a lot of deals will be done with Chinese partners whether for investments in the PRC or for investments outside China in Europe and the rest of the world,” she adds. “So from the perspective of the workflow and the relevance of my emerging markets background, Hong Kong was an attractive proposition.”

Originally from Bulgaria, Radoycheva studied in the UK before taking up a trainee contract with Ashurst. She then practised at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP (for four years) and Macfarlanes LLP (for nine months).

With more than five years’ post qualification experience under her belt, the timing also worked.

Radoycheva has acquired enough experience to apply for an exemption from all but one of the four parts or ‘Heads’ of the Overseas Lawyers Qualification Examination – the exam required for an English qualified solicitor to re-qualify as a Hong Kong lawyer.

As Radoycheva only moved to Hong Kong in August, she missed this year’s deadline for exam applications, but she hopes to take the exam in late 2012. Until then, she works for Baker & McKenzie as a registered foreign lawyer, meaning that she can practise English law but will have to wait to pass the exam before she can start practising Hong Kong law.

Working in HK

In the meantime, Radoycheva has been adjusting to a new way of life. “It takes time,” she admits. “The working culture is different. The hours are comparable but the days are more intense. In general, there is more client hand-holding here – clients are sophisticated but expect more regular guidance and more pro-active deal management from transactional lawyers.”

Radoycheva thinks that speaking the local language would help in this respect, although it is not essential for relocating to Hong Kong and Radoycheva doesn’t speak Cantonese or Mandarin, the language of business.

In terms of the work, she has to be flexible. She specialises in M&A but admits that when she joined it was fairly quiet on that front. “We have worked on a few deals but are still waiting for some to come through,” she says.

In the current economic climate, that is hardly surprising. Hong Kong has lately joined a whole host of countries to receive an IMF warning of possible recession if the Eurozone crisis deepens.

But despite a slow M&A market, Radoycheva has been kept busy with capital markets-related and real estate investments trusts (REITs) work. She describes a steep learning curve working on the latter – REITs being an area in which the Hong Kong office of Baker & McKenzie has considerable strength.

Showing an ability to adapt and learn quickly will surely stand her in good stead for any economic challenges ahead.

Making the move

On a personal level, Radoycheva says the move to Hong Kong was helped by a very smooth relocation process. “Hong Kong is a very efficient place, so setting up here was easy and quick,” she says.

Baker & McKenzie supported Radoycheva’s transition by giving her a relocation allowance and arranging the transportation of her luggage from the UK. The firm also recommended a good property rental agent and offered a short-term loan for the deposit. “It was all very professionally done,” she adds.

It is a bit premature for Radoycheva to predict a long-term future in Hong Kong. But whatever the next few months and years hold in store, for the moment she seems to be enjoying making the most of what will surely prove to be a great life and career experience. CP

Living and working in Hong Kong



A vibrant multicultural harbour city, and beyond, stunning scenery including mountain peaks, beaches and deserted islands

The city is not for the faint-hearted. It can feel hectic to the point of being overwhelming, and air pollution has been getting worse over the years

An economic and legal powerhouse – half of the global 50 law firms have a presence in Hong Kong. The result is interesting and rewarding job opportunities

Hong Kong is not immune to recession, and work may vary depending on the global economic climate

Traditionally considered to offer a better work/life balance than UK City firms

Perhaps no longer the case as competition between firms in Hong Kong is fierce – particularly as more international firms have opened up shop in recent years. The working atmosphere can be intense

Good salaries and tax rate of just 16%

Hong Kong salaries used to be much higher than those offered in the UK, but have recently evened out to be comparable

The gateway to Asia. Great opportunity to gain experience of growing Asian market, as well as to travel

A long way from family and friends. Expect to spend a considerable portion of your salary on flights back home. Of course, the distance may be an advantage for some



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    Great post. Hong Kong is a great city. I had a friend who lived there for 3 years and went over to visit and absolutely loved it. Expect to pay two or three times what you’d pay in London on rent and on a considerably smaller flat – my friend’s employers reflected this in the salary. Chances are, though, if you’re doing what most Gweilos do in Hong Kong you won’t spend much time at home anyway. Tax is something ridiculously low as well, something like 12%.

  • Andy Keith

    Tax is capped at 15% in HK. I have been in HK for a while and while I like Shanghai and Singapore to visit, HK is the place to live in my view.

    Flats are definitely smaller, so buy locally don’t ship furniture. As HK was British, the UK electrical stuff all works fine. One tip from an old China hand, it can get surprisingly cold in Jan and Feb for a tropical island so bring a warm coat – you wont need it often but when you do, it is worth having.