The Legal Cheek View
Active in the region for more than 40 years, Magic Circle firm Clifford Chance opened its first Asia Pacific office in Hong Kong in 1980. Since then, it’s expanded to seven offices in four countries across the APAC region: Beijing, Shanghai, Singapore, Tokyo, Perth, Sydney, and Hong Kong. The Hong Kong office advises on matters relating to corporate, finance, capital markets, real estate and litigation. It has a dedicated mainland China desk.
The team has advised on many of Hong Kong’s largest and most significant initial public offerings (IPOs), including China Tower’s US$6.9 billion IPO, Budweiser Asia Pacific’s US$5 billion IPO, and Xiaomi’s US$4.7 billion IPO. Clifford Chance regularly updates followers on its lawyers’ exploits in the region on LinkedIn.
Clifford Chance takes up to 18 trainees a year, making it the largest training provider in Hong Kong, just like it is in London where it’s headquartered. Trainees undertake a compulsory seat in litigation, with others in corporate, global financial markets, a repeat seat or secondment. They are well-schooled at the start of each seat, receiving “very structured and helpful training”, according to one of our anonymous trainee insiders. They complete one to two sessions a day for around two weeks on “the typical work involved in a particular department and the best delivery tools that the team commonly use”. These take the form of “recordings, slides, and reading materials” on the firm’s intranet as well as “regular tutorial-style training sessions”. Some teams provide additional training on “key documentation and transaction structures,” another trainee tells us.
And once they’re up to speed, the work they take on is “high profile” considering the firm acts for some of the biggest names in business. JP Morgan, Bank of China, Coca Cola, Pfizer and Tencent are all clients of the firm. Trainees are given “substantial responsibility” and “involved end-to-end on most of the matters they are supporting”.
Opportunities to go on overseas secondment were suspended owing to the coronavirus and quarantine restrictions but the firm plans to resume these from autumn 2022. “London is the usual destination,” we’re told. Remote international secondments weren’t offered in the Hong Kong office but we hear a trainee in the firm’s Perth office completed one in Singapore, and is now qualified there — so opportunities abound! Client secondments are usually the domain of qualified solicitors rather than trainees.
Generally, the 200 or so members of staff in Clifford Chance’s Hong Kong office vibe quite well together. It’s an “excellent collegiate environment,” reports one trainee. When it comes to higher-ups, they’re “approachable” and the firm has “a genuine open-door policy”. What’s more, “trainees share rooms with the superiors, so they are one turn away”. It’s generally two to a room, with non-legal staff working in the open plan office space.
The work hours peak and trough as these “depend on the business cycle and how busy the team is” but we’re told the firm is “pretty flexible in general” and “there’s no pressure to stay in the office when you are relatively free”.
The office is conveniently located in Central, occupying three floors (27-30/F) in Jardine House. The building stands out from the several glass and steel high-rises dotted along Hong Kong’s sky-line because it’s all white and has round-shaped windows. You can view the city from these for miles and “the view of Victoria Harbour is stunning”. Clifford Chance also has a pantry for its lawyers which is “big and cosy” and “perfectly suitable for group lunch with peers”. Plus, there’s a variety of free drinks, snacks and a coffee machine in the pantry. There’s also a Starbucks on the ground floor of the building and Clifford Chance lawyers can get money off their hot beverages if they use the firm’s reusable cups. Speaking of sustainability, Clifford Chance also has various paper drives in place.
As for perks, these receive lots of praise from the firm’s junior ranks. Clifford Chance makes sure they’re well looked after as they get allowances for meals, transport (when working late), wellbeing and equipment to work from home. All members of staff are given a HK$10,000 IT allowance to be reimbursed over three years, in addition to the HK$4,000 initially given to lawyers to set-up their WFH space. “While we are encouraged to go to the office, we can easily shift to work-from-home mode if needed,” adds a trainee. In recent times Clifford Chance rookies have received cash coupons to celebrate Chinese New Year as well as hampers for Christmas. There are also department-wide and team social events. And trainees can make use of the firm’s very own junk boat!
In terms of tech the firm has a global team of lawyers and legal technologists working to find new solutions for clients. The Hong Kong office has “committed quite some resources on tech”, our spies tell us, and is exploring ways it can help replace time-intensive work.
Clifford Chance runs two summer vacation schemes each year, taking around ten to 15 interns per scheme. The firm also runs a winter vacation scheme for about six to eight interns and there’s a direct training contract application route for graduates. It has been running a first-year scheme, Clifford Chance GLOW, since 2019.