Manager of the legal and compliance division at Robert Walters Hong Kong
Where best to try my luck as a lawyer overseas?
I work as a company lawyer in Hong Kong and, though I am happy in my job, I am exploring further qualifications abroad to broaden my international career options.
Are there any particular jurisdictions or professional qualifications you would recommend looking into? I speak Cantonese, Putonghua and English.
As a qualified lawyer in Hong Kong you are fully licensed to practise in the SAR.
With regard to your international career options, following the UK’s transfer of sovereignty over Hong Kong to China in 1997 and the establishment of Hong Kong as an SAR, the region is no longer officially a Commonwealth-governed jurisdiction. It does, however, share substantial similarities with common law, which is the type widely used in those jurisdictions, and accordingly, a Hong Kong qualification should allow you to extend your career into most Commonwealth qualified countries as a “registered foreign lawyer”.
Should you wish to pursue a long-term career in another jurisdiction then a conversion course may be required, such as the Qualified Lawyers Transfer Scheme in the UK or the Bar in the USA. These courses are well established and can be studied for remotely, although most will require you to sit the exam in country.
Given Hong Kong’s alignment with common law, most Hong Kong lawyers pursue these conversions as the first option. Pursuing qualifications in the USA, China and many European countries would require a more challenging conversion to civil law. This, however, is also a well-trodden path and one that can open up further career options for you.
A further market that is growing rapidly is offshore law firms. Their systems are again closely aligned with common law but, without qualifications in either the Cayman Islands or the British Virgin Islands, they will require you to practise as a “legal manager”.
Your language skills will give you a strong advantage in any role that has interaction with Chinese clients, and I would advise you to leverage this. Not only are Chinese law firms and companies moving into more international markets but also non-Chinese businesses are doing more work than ever before with Chinese customers, so your language skills should have relevance in most major international centres.
Should you wish to move to somewhere less international, then you may find your language skills have less relevance and, as they are to some extent your unique selling point, your profile would have less strength compared to the local workforce.
This article appeared in the Classified Post print edition as Where best to try my luck as a lawyer overseas?