Advice

‘How easy is moving from Hong Kong to a City of London firm as a junior lawyer’

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I have a TC offer from a local firm but ultimately want to practice in the UK

Hong Kong and London

In the latest instalment in our Career Conundrums series, one aspiring lawyer is unsure where to begin their legal career — Hong Kong or London.

“I am a student from HK and basically would consider relocating to the UK to practice in the long term. However, due to Visa issues, I may only obtain a Visa from next year and basically I can only obtain a good UK TC from year 2025 (because TC applications have passed). In the alternative, I have a TC offer from a mid to high tier local firm from 2023. Just wonder if I should try my luck in the UK market or just start with my HK TC and try to relocate after gaining some transactional PQE experience? Thank you.”

If you have a career conundrum, email us at team@legalcheek.com.

28 Comments

Anon

I’d go for it. No point waiting until 2025. Get the experience at a Red Circle firm, which are growing fast, and then if you want to move to London later (and you might not!) then that will be an option.

(18)(6)

50 Cent Army Fresher Detected 🤑 🚨

Lol “red circle”. Firms specializing in Chinese law are not regarded as top tier in Hong Kong, and are more likely than not to be completely unknown to Grad Rec.

(7)(9)

Balanced view

Stupid heading but this is likely correct

(3)(0)

SeriouslyJoking

Red Circle firm???? ……..a joke firm ranking system

(5)(0)

HKer

Could be difficult to make the switch to Top 30 firm straight away. You made need to target lesser (but still very respectable firms) and make your move from there after a couple of years

(5)(14)

HKer

If I were you I would start the current TC in HK if the firm can give you the international exposure and experience, and you can qualify, in areas that jurisdiction is less of an issue (eg Corporate, Finance etc.). Very competitive at the TC stage in London and my personal experience is it is easier to move after qualification.

(17)(5)

Anonymous

Wait it out. Once a CV is diluted only a few can repair it. If the UK TC application does not work out, then you can go back to the suggested route anyway. Not waiting is shooting yourself in the foot.

(10)(42)

Anonymous

Depends on how much mommy and daddy are prepared to gift

(13)(6)

Eton Boy

Quiet, state school boy.

(8)(6)

Anon

1. Can you defer your place? If so, do that and apply for UK TC’s and see where that gets you. UK TC’s also recruit in advance so you can probably apply for them now and get your visa sorted by the time it begins

2. Is there a choice on the HK TC to do a secondment in UK?

3. Get in touch with recruiters on LinkedIn and ask them if they have placed HK lawyers in UK/US firms in London and if so, what practice areas are the most popular and how often this occurs / what you will need

4. Main practice areas in UK are corporate and commercial, litigation, merger control, banking and PE. As long as your HK TC covers these and you also want to practice in one of these then might be worth starting your TC now and then making the move to London – you might have to start off at a lower firm but it doesn’t take long to work your way up to the big firms

Best of luck to you

(6)(11)

BBC associate

HK people with stellar CV and trained in top-tier international law firms in HK struggle to find a job in UK, even in Manchester. Your ambition is unrealistic especially if you couldn’t even secure a top end job in Hong Kong City. I doubt that you can secure a TC in London coming from overseas, as the pool of talent domestically is stupendous and there aren’t enough jobs for every locals, let alone refugees/migrants.

In saying that if you were born and raised in the UK a different consideration may apply.

(25)(58)

Named partner in HK

Actually many of my friends / colleagues relocated to London easily, entering hk law school especially HKU is way more difficult than UK law schools except Oxbridge, not to mention qualifying due to the cap of pcll quota. Most of the students studying in non Oxbridge law schools in UK are actually the losers of HKAL and DSE, just their parents are rich enough to send them over UK to study law.

Further, the salary of HK lawyers are a lot higher than in UK (before and after tax). A lot of Oxbridge / LSE graduates go back to Hong Kong after studying instead of staying in UK . Many Brits including white judges / barristers and partners often love to work and stay in HK even after the enactment of NSL because they are making significantly more than in UK ( esp after tax, 17% vs 47%). If HK is not being ruined by China, we are not that keen to come. Mr. BBC.

In my era, in order to enter top end firm in HK, my hku classmate tactically apply city firms opening in UK which make them can entering internationally more easily than HK. You can come try to secure a top firm traineeship here, if you can confidently listen and write Chinese ( both simplified and traditional chinese)

I have instructed half of the SC in Hong Kong and I can tell you the brief of senior counsel in HK is like 10 times higher than QC , no joke.

Oh yes , there are still around 5 greedy old white British former judges who love our HKD to stay in the CFA , Lord Penning defending our HK court because HK govt pay him a lot to defend the CFA ….ha

(14)(24)

MC associate

As far as I know MC firms don’t pay too equity to Partners in their HK offices because the average billing is way lower in HK. I’m also not aware that US firms pay more in HK. What you said is factually incorrect.

Counsel in HK are notoriously *, with very few exceptions; therefore you need our retired judges. Just because these HK silks charge more don’t mean they are technically better.

I’ve never dealt with a “HKU” graduate practitioner in the top end of the London market – not a single one. I did work with some secondees from HK and none of them is up to the standard of a typical UK (or even Australia or Kiwi) trained solicitor. I’m however a fan of a conveyancing ethnic lawyer from HK (based in Chinatown in London) who does my clients’ property transaction at £800+VAT (fixed fee) which I consider to be great value and accordingly believe there to be a large market for the OPs.

(19)(6)

MC Associate’s partner

What sort of deluded world do you live in. The fact that you think the partners in HK do not get equity means you clearly have no understanding of the legal market. Rates in HK are same if not higher than UK. US firms pay above UK firms and they pay full cravath (mostly) plus cost of living adjustment. If in the first place HK was such a poor legal market that firms can’t even afford to make equity partners why would even MC or US firms be there. I am assuming you are a first PQE but even then this is such a shocking lack of awareness of the legal market and how law firms work. Less legalcheek more turning comments for you.

(4)(9)

Mastermind

Good luck on securing an equity role in the London market sir. Of course you can – full equity role next to the all you can eat for a tenner place. Honky dory.

Seriously though, to the OP, it’s more difficult than you think it is to secure a TC in London. Spend a few years in HK preferably at a UK firm and do an internal transfer.

Chris Cross

Depends on the hiring market and ease of getting a visa at the time you look to move to London. I would train in HK, focus on enjoying your training contract and considering if a career in law is for you. Once over, then think if you actually want to leave.

(9)(2)

HK Girl

Hi OP, I had a similar conundrum as you a few years ago. I’m from HK and I decided to apply for TCs in HK and UK at the same time. I managed to get a TC offer in HK (magic circle) and one in the UK (silver circle). I decided to move to the UK and have now qualified as an associate here.

I also have friends who trained in international law firms and have now transferred over to the UK office.

Truth be told, I think it’s harder to transfer out of HK if you train in a local HK firm but it certainly isn’t a problem if you train at an international one. Can you possibly get a TC in an international law firm in HK instead? I know there are rules about revoking TC offers but I can’t see how this might be enforced against you. Can you do a masters in the interim? It really depends on your finances and whether you can afford to take a year out, but if I were you I’d try to get a better offer in HK at an international law firm as this will bolster your chances of transferring to the UK in the future. In the meantime you can also try to apply to UK firms directly – to be honest it was not an easy process personally, but I think it’s worth trying.

Hope this is vaguely helpful. Best of luck!

(14)(3)

Not common

Handful of people have made a move like this in the last 5 years, not common. Market is small in London, market is tiny in HK and the number of people who want to do this and are in a position to do so are very very rare. The people who have done it generally were at US firms in HK In transactional. Some of the above comments aren’t true, e.g suggesting a move in litigation is common. There’s about one person in the entire UK market who has done this at a lower tier claimant boutique. It’s not to say the legal system isn’t based on the UK’s and builds another layer on it, but don’t pretend you know what you’re talking about and suggest this is a common move, when it is not. Aussies or Kiwis doing litigation in London, now that’s common…that’s like half the market. Also the split between corporate and PE at different ends as suggested in that person’s response is indicative of a have a go law student trying to give associate career advice, not understanding the practice areas properly.
Probably you can do it in PE, finance or funds (not that HK is big for funds really, but it does some home grown and generally launches a lot of Cayman). Both hotter markets right now. But if there’s a recession, and the London market contracts, you’ll find it tough, even if you’ve switched to K&E in HK. Probably could even go to an offshore firm in HK, if not US, to leverage to UK in funds.
I know no one who has made a move from a local HK firm, maybe you can find some random super niche exception on LinkedIn, but I’d just move after qualification to a better branded firm – whether UK or US.
More common for UK lawyers to move to HK and then come back, than HK to UK.
To your question though, a job in hand is a job in hand, and being a lawyer in London is a bit crap to say the least. Sorry to piss on your bonfire. The average lifespan of an associate in London is 2-5 years before they leave private practice anyway usually for in-house, especially in transactional areas. A lot of London lawyers would GTFO if they had the chance – whether to HK, even if it’s particularly bad now, the UAE, Singapore etc. but get tied down with marriage, kids and a mortgage, and elderly parents. Tax and ways to mitigate it suck here, and COL is also drab.

(17)(0)

Anonymous

It makes no sense to forgo a precious TC opportunity in your country and get into a ruthlessly competitive field where even lots of local talents cannot secure TCs. Maybe consider qualifying in your country first.

(14)(1)

Absolutely Agree

Best advice here. TC’s are notoriously difficult to get!

Obviously try and make UK applications – but absolutely don’t revoke any offers

(5)(1)

Dung Shower Pingu

Well, it will take a lot of getting used to having free speech and the right to criticise your government again.

That is if the Party let you leave…

(2)(2)

UK/HK

Take the HK TC then try to move to an international firm in HK (definitely doable if you’re in capital markets – I’ve had friends move from middling local firms to large US firms/UK firms doing cap markets work). Should be easier to move to the UK then.

To be honest, I understand if you’re moving for political/personal reasons but I made the opposite switch because the money makes so much more sense in HK. I work in a US firm and get paid Cravath rate plus COLA. I think if I stayed in the UK I would probably get paid less than half of what I’m currently earning.

Really depends on your life/career goals.

(6)(0)

James

Massively number of vacancies here in the UK job market right now. I’d go.

(0)(2)

Good luck

How can you be so confident that you will definitely get an offer in London for year 2025 or onwards?

The London market is extremely competitive. You will be in competition with other talented people coming from other parts of the world who are wishing for the same as yourself.

You need to do some research yourself and have a think as to whether your own abilities suit the UK. No one will be able to provide you with a definitive answer.

(2)(1)

Mr Smith

Oh, shelve your Western plans
And understand
That life is hard enough when you belong here

(2)(3)

Anon

Do not try and join the UK market as a fresh grad, the reason is simple, try look up recent TC hires in the UK and you will find near 0 chinese faces. If you want to try the UK market go in as an experienced lawyer.

(7)(9)

Anon

Untrue. Plenty of Chinese multilingual trainees and associates in MC and SC.

Suggest OP reach out to Gordon Chung.

(3)(10)

Advisor

Talk to some of the mid-market US firms as they hire whenever there is a business need. The training is abysmal but you’ll be making good bangers and mash.

(4)(3)

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