Hong Kong move to limit foreign lawyers is opposed by ACC
The Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC), the now-global legal association for in-house counsel, has issued a statement opposing a move by the Hong Kong Law Society (HKLS) to limit foreign lawyers. The proposed changes to the local bar’s rules would change the ratio of Hong Kong solicitors to foreign-qualified lawyers in a Hong Kong firm from 1:1 to a minimum of 2:1.
The HKLS first ordered a 1:1 ratio in 1994, shortly before Hong Kong’s return to China. The new proposal also limits foreign lawyers to advising on the laws of the jurisdiction in which they are licensed. Foreign lawyers in Hong Kong have always been restricted from addressing Hong Kong law unless advised and supervised by a Hong Kong solicitor.
“The proposed rules will restrict the ability of in-house counsel to retain multi-jurisdictional teams to meet their legal needs,” said Mary Blatch, associate general counsel and senior director of advocacy at ACC, in a statement. “They will effectively keep lawyers from practicing across international borders. ACC has a history of opposing such restrictions.”
Some 1,500 foreign lawyers work in Hong Kong, or 15 percent of staff in local firms. Hong Kong firms would have two years to adjust to the revised ratio. More than a dozen American and UK firms active in Hong Kong have opposed the rule change, with many of them saying that they might move to Singapore, where the ratio of native to foreign-qualified counsel is 1:1.