There are more offshore law firms in service than ever before to meet these increasing needs in Hong Kong. In parallel, we have observed a growing number of lawyers expressing interest in moving into the offshore environment. Considering the rapid growth of the offshore firms’ presence in the Hong Kong market, we are happy to give lawyers from local or international law firms some thoughts on the flexibility and benefits of making a move to offshore firms.
Becoming an offshore lawyer
To practice law in an offshore firm, you must meet the prerequisite of becoming a qualified lawyer in a commonwealth jurisdiction. It is less complicated for UK qualified lawyers to practise BVI or Cayman law because they can cross-qualify in these jurisdictions. However, given the population of lawyers holding both Hong Kong and UK practice licenses are relatively small, these offshore firms may, like some other international law firms, offer their employees the opportunity of a secondment in the United Kingdom to facilitate the qualification process.
Reasons for Moving to an Offshore Firm
- Exposure to other jurisdictions of law
If you have practised law for a few years, you will have gained a certain amount of expertise and experience in your chosen practice area. Making a move to offshore firms will not only broaden your exposure to matters from other jurisdictions, i.e. the BVI, Bermuda, Cayman, and Channel Islands, but you will also be given opportunities to leverage your knowledge and past experience to provide legal opinions advising on complicated offshore legal issues.
Teams tend to be comparatively smaller at offshore firms than at the international giants, hence the requirement for junior lawyers to take ownership and responsibility for matters at a more junior level. It is common for junior lawyers at offshore firms to lead a project and deal directly with clients. This approach not only nurtures young lawyers’ sense of accountability but also encourages autonomy at work. In terms of professional development, lawyers are therefore better-equipped earlier in their careers with the skillsets they need for handling problems independently.
- Good work culture and competitive pay
Although working for offshore firms can be as demanding as international law firms in Hong Kong, tasks and working hours tend to be more manageable (notwithstanding the occasional all-nighter if dealing with colleagues or clients based in the Caribbean). They aim to promote a friendly, supportive and “open-door” culture where honesty and courteousness and the ability to maintain trusted and amicable relationships internally and externally are highly encouraged. In addition, many offshore firms are very generous in terms of their salary package. They tend to take a meritocratic approach to salary, close to the Magic Circle levels to attract and retain the top talent.
The deal exposure offshore lawyers receive tends to be broad and diversified. Nowadays, many leading international law firms work alongside the offshore firms on a variety of projects and as you add to your experience gained from both onshore and offshore law firms, it will add value to your resume.
Any career move requires thorough consideration and careful career planning.
If you are thinking of making a move, you may not have considered offshore firms as an option. However, as hundreds of associates in Asia and beyond who have made the switch can attest, the unique challenges and culture that life in an offshore firm can offer are worth a closer look.