Magic Circle member Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer has been involved in some of the biggest deals in the Asia Pacific region; “from helping on the first strategic foreign investment in Vietnam to setting up the Tokyo AIM market, from engineering a complex public takeover in Hong Kong to restructuring China’s telecoms industry, and from aiding pioneering investments in Myanmar to leading the largest IPO in southeast Asia.”
Freshfields opened its doors in Hong Kong in 1985. By that point the firm had established a base in Singapore, becoming the first international firm to do so. These offices form the core of the firm’s southeast Asia practice, but it also has bases in Beijing, Shanghai, Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City and Tokyo. Freshfields clients range from tech titans Alibaba, HP and Panasonic to big-name banks Deutsche, HSBC and Goldman Sachs.
The quality of work and training is what you’d expect from an elite law firm. “Freshfields has so much knowledge support such as formal training, precedents, and practice notes, which are very helpful for boosting your technical knowledge and skill development,” says a trainee.
Unlike most other firms, a Freshfields training contract comprises six seats instead of four. Trainees experience up to five areas of law and two secondments during the training contract. There’s also an opportunity to be seconded for three months to the firm’s offices in Beijing or Shanghai, and for six months to its London headquarters. The firm’s eight or so trainees spend at least six months in a corporate seat, three months in a finance seat and three months in a dispute resolution seat. They can also choose to do a three-month seat in antitrust, competition and trade or intellectual property and information technology, or revisit a seat. Pro bono work is also encouraged and spans every practice area at the firm. In 2022, the firm’s trainees were involved in over 200 pro bono projects!
Freshfields moved out of Central four years ago to an emerging business district on the east side of the island, Quarry Bay, becoming the first and only Magic Circle member to be based outside Central. Freshfields does, however, retain a client meeting suite at its old base in Two Exchange Square, which was refurbished around the same time as the big move and has a fancy café and hot desk area.
Freshfields occupies two floors in One Island East, a skyscraper part of Taikoo Place with sixty-something floors. Those in the know believe Freshfields to have the swankiest digs in HK — it was designed by top Hong Kong interior architect, Richards Basmajian, who has designed the offices of no less than 13 of the city’s law firms. Entry is via two lifts — the first to the Sky Lobby and the second to the firm’s reception on 55/F. It’s modern and spacious and feels like walking into an ultra-luxe penthouse. There are paintings and photographs by Chinese and international artists on the walls, shiny marble floors, plus a panoramic view capturing the city’s hilly mountain-tops, meandering sea and many high-rise towers, all in one take. The meeting rooms are equally luxurious (and soundproof) with plush chairs, and there’s a wellness facility and pantry to rival most avant-garde bars.
Freshfields has poured investment into all things tech and innovation. The Freshfields Hub, based in Manchester with global teams across Europe and Asia, looks at ways to improve client service through artificial intelligence and other technologies.
When it comes to eco efforts, the firm has in place a strategy which aims to purchase 100% renewable electricity by 2030; reduce carbon from business travel; reduce paper usage; and eliminate single-use plastics.
Freshfields typically runs three four-week vacation schemes (two in the summer targeted at students from Canada, Hong Kong, and UK; one in the winter for students from Australia and New Zealand) a year, taking up to twenty four interns on each scheme. However, the firm is only running summer vacation schemes this year. Freshfields also runs a 12-week programme for US JD students, a legal assistants programme for students studying in mainland China, and a training contract split between London and one other office in Asia.