UK lawyers could lose out in Hong Kong practice rule change

UK lawyers may find it more difficult to practise in Hong Kong following a review by the Hong Kong law society's standing committee on standards and development.

The law society's director of standards and development, Margaret Hill, said overseas lawyers generally had to sit a series of examinations before being able to practise Hong Kong law.

“English solicitors, whose first jurisdiction of administration is England or Wales, are exempted automatically from all heads of the examination at present,” she said.

“That is currently under review and we are awaiting the report.”

The review follows the Law Society's foreign lawyers committee recommendation that the automatic exemption for UK lawyers be phased out.

Changes could also affect lawyers from Commonwealth countries, who enjoyed the exemptions of UK lawyers after passing a transfer test.

Other overseas lawyers have been able to apply to practise Hong Kong law only since amendments were made to the governing statute in 1994.

These lawyers are starting to filter through the examination process and make inroads into practising Hong Kong law.

The Hong Kong partner of US firm Jones Day Reavis & Pogue, Tony Stewart, is the first US attorney to be admitted as a solicitor of the Supreme Court of Hong Kong, along with consultant to the firm John Y Lo.

The two US-qualified law-yers can now practise Hong Kong law but not from a foreign law firm, as regulations require an equal ratio of foreign lawyers and lawyers with Hong Kong practising certificates.

“We've had to transform our foreign law firm into a Hong Kong law firm, which we've managed to do, but I don't intend to reveal how,” said Stewart.

He added that Jones Day was the only US firm that had achieved this and he did not expect others to do so this year.

Stewart said the firm would expand in size, recruiting more Hong Kong qualified lawyers, and move beyond its China investment work.

“Now we will go into more local Hong Kong and corporate securities type work,” he added.