The Legal Cheek View
Norton Rose Fulbright (NRF or Norton Rose as it was) opened an office in Hong Kong in 1976, becoming one of the first UK law firms to establish a presence in the region. NRF services clients across multiple practice areas including corporate, banking and disputes.
The corporate practice is the jewel in the crown. It focuses on both international and local (Hong Kong/Greater China) matters, with the former led by expat partners and the latter by Hong Kong office head and one of the firm’s most renowned lawyers globally, Psyche Tai. The firm counts big-name banks HSBC, AIG and BNP Paribas among its client base, as well as Hong Kong philanthropists and tycoons. Client secondments are not usually offered to trainees but there are opportunities to undertake these once qualified.
Earlier this year the firm’s managing partner for Europe, Middle East and Asia (EMEA), Peter Scott, observed, “there is a pivot towards China in terms of the office and the skills that we need”. The Hong Kong office, it was suggested, would integrate more with its teams based in Beijing and Shanghai. It’s also a requirement that future trainees are trilingual in English, Cantonese and Mandarin.
The firm recruits four trainee solicitors each year, selected from a batch of between eight to ten summer and four to five winter interns. The training contract is two years, broken down into four six-month seat rotations. Three will be in the firm’s core areas of corporate, banking and disputes, with the fourth usually a secondment to the firm’s London or Singapore offices. “We are able to work on high-profile cases, and at the junior level we are given a variety of work instead of specialising in one particular area, which allows us to understand what field we would like to specialise in later on,” says one anonymous trainee respondent to our 2022-23 Trainee and Junior Lawyer Survey. Common trainee tasks include proof-reading, legal research and document drafting.
The training is comprehensive and there’s an induction programme for new joiners to prepare for the jump from study to practice as well as practice area-specific training at the start of each seat. There’s “a professional skills course, library training and seat planning”, as well as a “handover” from the trainee in the seat in which they’re about to start. Beyond this, they are assigned a “buddy”, partner mentor and have regular sessions with the trainee development team.
There are roughly 23 partners in the Hong Kong office and trainees share a room with a partner or associate. Our junior insiders tell us the seniors are “very supportive”, “always willing to teach” and “readily available for questions or clarifications”. Plus, there’s a “very good support network from the firm’s supporting staff”. Another rookie agrees, saying: “Partners and seniors are very friendly to work with and encourage you to contribute to meetings early on.”
Trainees report a “good” work/life balance on the whole, finishing work on average by 7pm. “There are of course times that we need to work weekends when needed, but not a norm,” says a current NRF rookie, adding: “We have a work from home policy that allows flexibility.” Trainees are given “one-off subsidies” for their WFH set-up.
The office occupies one and a half floors in Jardine House, an office tower in Central with unique round-shaped windows. Those with trypophobia: be warned! The office was “renovated back in 2019” so it’s stylish, modern and open plan. There are “large rooms” and a “comfy pantry” for lawyers to lunch.
When quizzed about the perks on offer, trainees highlight the “quite comprehensive medical insurance coverage” but not much beyond that… though the “free drinks” do get a mention. On the social side, there’s the annual dinner to look forward to, the firm’s involvement in the HK-wide Dragon Boat race and its rugby team events. The firm’s lawyers give back to the community too; a group recently took part in a swimming relay to raise funds for Splash, a charity offering swimming lessons to Hong Kong’s under-served communities. Budding writers or photographers can also contribute to the firm’s magazine, RE:, which is published globally twice a year.