The Legal Cheek View
With a history of more than 25 years in Greater China, Los-Angeles bred giant Latham & Watkins has built a formidable presence in the region. Opened in 1994, the firm’s Hong Kong office serves as a conduit between Asia and the rest of the world. Working as one team, Latham’s Asia offices (Hong Kong, Beijing, Shanghai, Singapore, Seoul, Tokyo) count amongst their clients some well-known financial institutions and multinational corporates.
Whilst being full-service, Latham is famously known for its private equity practice, which steers deals worth more than half a trillion US dollars annually. This is no different in Hong Kong, where it regularly represents international funds on a whole range of transactions. More generally, the firm’s finance know-how does a good job at attracting some leading multinationals including the Bank of China and HK Airlines. More recently, the Hong Kong corporate team represented Binance (only the world’s largest cryptocurrency platform!) on its US$200 million investment in media giant Forbes.
Latham’s US roots help in winning high-profile US-related mandates too. A classic example of this ‘best of both worlds’ advantage was seen recently when the home market demanded US-listed Chinese companies to list in Hong Kong. Latham rose to the challenge with its clients and helped its global clients like Trip.com list on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange. This, of course, saw a cross-border collab between US and Hong Kong offices. In fact, Legal Cheek understands that Latham’s Hong Kong lawyers work with their global counterparts from the US and Europe every day.
The firm has an extensive pro bono offering as well, with hours spent on pro bono work counting towards associates’ evaluation and bonuses. Since 2000, the firm has contributed nearly four million pro bono hours globally. Apart from providing free legal advice to asylum seekers, Latham’s Hong Kong lawyers have worked with organisations like Justice Centre Hong Kong to promote human rights.
The management side of things seems to be refreshingly egalitarian. Contrary to what shows like Partner Track might have you believe (*spoiler alert*), top firms like Latham strive to ensure a consensus-driven management style. With no head office, the firm’s major decisions fall in the hands of its unique Associates Committee. This committee, formed with equal numbers of associates and partners, transparently manages crucial decisions like associate reviews, bonuses and even partner progression.
If you train here, expect to be immersed in the firm’s fast-moving environment from day one. Latham likes to keep staffing on matters quite lean, which means you’ll have the opportunity to take more responsibility and prove your mettle. You might also be offered to spend up to six months in an overseas office, of which Latham has lots! We hear overseas secondments to the firm’s London office resumed in September 2022. There is sufficient support available too. Every trainee has a partner principal, who oversees their workload and training. They also have a supervisor for each seat who allocates their tasks, and finally a mentor who assists their integration in the firm.
It’s not all work and no play, though. We understand the Hong Kong office has two big parties each year, one at the Chinese New Year and another at Christmas. There’s also regular team drinks and a firm-wide ‘Spring Challenge’ where offices compete to do the most exercise in a set period. Lawyers log their exercise hours — from walking and cycling to more off-beat ones like bowling or hiking.
Latham offers plenty of learning opportunities post-qualification too. The firm’s bespoke training courses, Latham & Watkins Academies, provide a chance for all first, fourth and sixth-year associates to hone their lawyer skills alongside their colleagues from the firm’s many global offices. We understand that depending on your seniority, there are skills workshops on a range of topics, including supervision, client interaction and business development. The firm has also run Academies for trainees in Asia too.
The Hong Kong office is a delightful mix of traditional wooden panels and modern glass. It’s located on 18/F of Central’s One Exchange Square. The office exudes a luxury hotel vibe thanks in part to the rich gold aesthetic. Lawyers and clients are met with an amazing view overlooking Victoria Harbour.
Latham currently offers six to eight training contracts each year in Hong Kong. The firm also runs two three-week vacation schemes in June and July, which are a great way to find out about the firm’s culture. Ideal applicants will be trilingual in English, Cantonese and Mandarin.