Allen & Overy (A&O) has three offices in Greater China: Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong. It has been operating in the region for over 30 years and was one of the first international law firms to open an office in Beijing in 1993. By that point the Hong Kong office had been established for five years, with the Shanghai office opening almost ten years later in 2002. The firm expanded further in Shanghai through a joint operation with local firm Lang Yue in 2020.
A&O is a finance and corporate powerhouse, regularly advising blue-chip companies on local, regional and international matters. In fact, over half the transactions the firm advises on involve three or more jurisdictions. Expect to work closely with colleagues in mainland China, Bangkok, Singapore, Sydney and London — even as a trainee.
The Hong Kong office now has over 28 partners split across the core practice areas of banking, corporate, regulatory, disputes and capital markets. Trainees complete four seats in these areas, with a secondment to the London office in the penultimate or final seat. The training is structured and takes the form of mentoring sessions with a partner or associate supervisor as well as department-specific training at the start of each seat. On top of that there are seminars, workshops and various courses, plus the trainee development team is hands-on. Trainees are encouraged to take ownership of their work but “never left to sink or swim”, reports one A&O newly qualified (NQ) associate. “In the first months of my training contract, I was entrusted with a good amount of responsibility and assigned key work streams for independent handling.” Training does not stop on qualification; associates are invited to attend a global development programme to continue their training at the firm.
The work is generally highly stimulating and lawyers are often involved in headline-grabbing deals. They recently advised the Hong Kong government on its US$1 billion green bond issuance — the first under the government’s new HK$100 billion green bond programme. Other notable deals include advising the Ant Group on its US$ 6.5 billion sustainability-linked loan, the largest of its kind in Asia Pacific last year.
Trainees and juniors are given plenty of responsibility too, with one insider telling us: “As a trainee, I would conduct research (often on novel legal points) and craft legal arguments, which together with the frequent dialogue within the team is a welcomed intellectual challenge. I was also responsible for case management, developing crucial organisational skills. Cases are often staffed across offices, affording the opportunity to work closely with colleagues across the A&O network.”
A&O offers some of the best perks of any city firm. There’s an annual wellbeing allowance of HK$6,000 for a gym membership and other activities. Lawyers also have access to a mental health and wellbeing programme which includes free use of apps Headspace and Unmind. They get medical, dental and life insurance, a pension scheme and access to a rental reimbursement scheme. They can also choose to take six weeks unpaid ‘quali leave’ and get a day off for their birthday each year. The firm does not disclose what it pays junior lawyers, but reviews salaries on an annual basis.
When it comes to social events there’s the Christmas party, spring dinner and junk boat celebration during the Dragon Boat race to look forward to each year. Individual practice groups arrange team drinks and the firm’s social committee organise ad hoc events from time to time. A&Out, the firm’s affinity network for LGBTQ+ colleagues and allies, celebrates Pink Season every year with a ‘pink drinks’ party.
A&O occupies 9/F in Central’s Three Exchange Square, the building that houses the Hong Kong Stock Exchange. It’s connected via a footbridge to virtually all major buildings in Central. The office interior is modern and functional, with great sea views. Tech is quite slick which isn’t surprising given A&O’s reputation for innovation and its in-house tech hub Fuse.
The firm recruits via its summer vacation scheme which is held in June and July each year. It takes around 25 interns, with a view to making up to 10 training contract offers. They sit in two departments for two weeks at a time and get the chance to work on live deals and cases, supported by senior lawyers. A&O also runs a first-year scheme offering students a week-long work experience placement at the firm.