ACC pushes back against proposal to limit number of foreign lawyers in Hong Kong firms

By Jerome Doraisamy|28 January 2020

The Association of Corporate Counsel has told the Hong Kong Law Society it shouldn’t make changes to the Foreign Lawyers Registration Rules.

Proposed amendments to the Foreign Lawyers Registration Rules (FLRR) 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 Hong Kong Law Society (HKLS) first ordered a 1:1 ratio in 1994, shortly before Hong Kong’s return to China, ACC explained.

“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,” it said.

HKLS invited ACC’s Hong Kong chapter to comment on the proposed amendments. In response, ACC has advised against the changes.

The proposed rules will restrict the ability of in-house counsel to retain multi-jurisdictional teams to meet their legal needs, said ACC associate general counsel and senior director of advocacy Mary Blatch. They will effectively keep lawyers from practicing across international borders. ACC has a history of opposing such restrictions.

Foreign lawyers make up roughly 15 per cent of staff in Hong Kong firms, ACC said in a statement, amounting to approximately 1,500 legal professionals.

“Many of them are from anglophone, common law countries, and are thus indispensable in matters related to the Cayman Islands and the British Virgin Islands, crucial jurisdictions for Hong Kong’s business community. Hong Kong firms would have two years to adjust to the revised ratio,” she said.

According to ACC Hong Kong president Lin Shi, “ACC members in Hong Kong work for sophisticated companies, and in-house counsel operating in the city are in the best position to assess their own legal needs.”

While loopholes in the existing regulations for foreign lawyers should be addressed, narrowing the number of foreign lawyers and their practice areas will only hurt the corporate legal market in Hong Kong without resolving the underlying issue.

ACC pushes back against proposal to limit number of foreign lawyers in Hong Kong firms
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