The Legal Cheek View
The ability to work on high-profile deals and cases is a big draw for trainees in the Hong Kong office of Herbert Smith Freehills (HSF). “There are quite a lot of opportunities to get involved in high-profile transactional work, and as a trainee I already have the chance to take part in all stages of M&A projects, very often helping to draft the key transaction documents,” reports one trainee. “I have been able to engage in complex legal research as well as other stimulating work, such as assisting with drafting legal advice, pleadings and witness statements,” adds another.
HSF has had an established presence in Hong Kong for more than 40 years. It has strengths in corporate M&A and dispute resolution. Trainees are required to complete seats in both departments, but can also join the finance, employment, energy or competition teams, as they rotate through four six-month seats during the training contract.
In addition to top-quality work, we hear the training is thorough. “The firm cares about trainees’ career development, providing wide-ranging training which includes practice-specific sessions, and sections relating to IT, use of legal software, business development, communication skills etc,” another trainee tells us. But training from the firm’s top brass can vary: “Some seniors provide better training than others — but generally seniors take the time to train you and give feedback.” Trainees also tell us they’re encouraged to ask questions and seek clarification but “one or two adopt the ‘there are stupid questions’ approach so be wary!”
Roughly a quarter of trainees go on an overseas secondment, with London, Beijing and Shanghai common destinations. The firm paused the programme amid the coronavirus pandemic but there are plans to resume from September 2022 to Singapore, and from March 2023 to London and Australia, if safe to do so. Fewer trainees go on a client secondment as these are governed by The Law Society of Hong Kong but those that do report spending up to six months at big investment banks.
The trainee cohort (HSF takes about nine trainees each year) is very close and there are reports that some have built strong rapport with the junior associates. “My peers are the friendliest and most supportive people one could ever work with!” gushes one current trainee. However, there are grumbles that certain trainees don’t pool together and share resources when qualification nears.
The office is situated in the heart of Hong Kong’s Central business district, occupying two and a half floors in The Landmark’s Gloucester Tower. It’s “recently renovated” so everything is shiny and new, and the meeting rooms are named after mountains. It’s two to a room with “generous space” and nice views. “Trainees get to share a room with their supervisor — hence lots of opportunities to discuss work and life with supervisors,” one of our HSF insiders says.
Another trainee sums up the work-life balance at the firm: “Generally you’re as busy as you are willing to be — there is downtime that you can enjoy if you don’t stick your hand up for extra work. Other times there are tasks you can’t refuse (because your supervisor has already volunteered you) or tasks that are more cost-effective for you to do. Generally, if you make sure someone is covering you whilst you’re on leave, you won’t be bothered.”
The perks get a thumbs-up from the trainees. These include a HK$600 HKTVmall voucher, HK$500 for lunch with fellow trainees, medical insurance, subsidised dental plan, corporate rate gym membership and annual dinners. Trainees can also work from home when required, but there are gripes that the HK$2,000 budget set aside for staff to buy kit “is not quite sufficient”. According to one rookie, that “could easily be spent all on one monitor!”
HSF takes about 14 interns across two summer vacation schemes each year and around four during the winter scheme. The firm also offers a direct training contract application route and a two-day workshop for first year undergraduate students. It has a scholarship programme open to law students at top universities in China to fund their PGDL in London and PCLL in Hong Kong.