The Legal Cheek View
UK-headquartered law firm RPC opened its second international office in Hong Kong just over a decade ago in 2012. An initial team of 40, including five partners, came over from the Hong Kong office of legacy firm Barlow Lyde & Gilbert. One of the partners was Antony Sassi, who is now the managing partner of the firm’s Asia practice. The Hong Kong office headcount has since doubled in size to 80 legal and non-legal staff.
A trainee solicitor programme has been in place since 2012, with the firm historically recruiting two trainees each year. RPC continues this practice to this day to retain as many trainees as possible. Over the years, RPC has kept most, if not all, of its trainee intake in Hong Kong.
What is perhaps most striking about RPC is the firm’s friendly, people-focused culture, which helps foster an inclusive and “very supportive” work environment. The lawyers here exude warmth and are always willing to lend a helping hand, we’re told. The offices are non-hierarchical and both open and accessible in terms of layout, meaning juniors can work closely with partners. “There’s an open culture at RPC so I feel at ease in asking questions when I’m lost,” one anonymous trainee insider tells Legal Cheek. “I feel like the partners want to know me as a person rather than a colleague”, says another, adding: “They will check in on me from time to time to make sure that I’m okay.”
The firm’s Hong Kong practice services clients locally, in China, and across the Asia-Pacific region in a range of industries including insurance, commercial, corporate and litigation, as well as retail and technology. For trainees, this translates into a wide variety of work to cut their teeth on. “Got exposure to quite a lot of different matters and do more than just ‘trainee’ duties,” reports an RPC trainee. “But spent quite a lot of time on rather tedious admin stuff due to lack of manpower in the firm and tech support.”
The level of responsibility may be high but don’t expect to be left to your own devices — supervisors generally ensure you have “appropriate guidance so you will not feel anxious when you have to start working on your own” and offer “quite a lot of feedback”. Trainees are nurtured and given work gradually at a pace that suits them. Though one current trainee recently attended a summit conducted entirely in a specific Chinese dialect which was a great experience but “steep learning curve”. They are given formal reviews every three months to assess their progress and areas for improvement.
The first few weeks of the training contract are taken up with the firm’s Trainee New Starter Programme. Trainees then rotate through four six-month seats across the firm’s core areas of practice in Hong Kong. In addition, they get the opportunity to spend six months seconded to the firm’s London office.
The work-life balance peaks and troughs depending on which department you’re in, but generally RPC trainees have a reasonable work finish time averaging at about 8:30pm.
RPC trainees are a fun and sociable bunch. Indeed, the training contract itself is targeted at “people with personality”. When they’re not posting pics to the firm’s “trainee-run” Instagram account, @lifeinalawfirm, they’re telling the seniors all about the trendy new restaurant openings in the city. They’re foodies and know the best place in town to grab a bite. “WE ALL LOVE FOOD HERE,” sums up one trainee. Occasionally they’ll all muck in, order food and enjoy it in the open atrium by the lobby. There’s also a food truck in the office pantry.
The graduate recruitment team hosts events too. For the Mid-Autumn Festival they ran a lantern-making workshop, for Halloween they put on a pumpkin carving competition across the Hong Kong, Singapore, and London offices and for Christmas, juniors got to decorate pine trees. Other events include a pub quiz and “boardroom Olympics”, whatever that entails…
RPC moved from Central’s Three Exchange Square in January 2019 and is now located on 38/F of One Taikoo Place in Quarry Bay, an area traditionally used for industrial and residential purposes but has become increasingly commercialised in the past two decades and is now brimming with high-rise buildings offering panoramic and incredibly scenic views of the sea and surrounding city.
In terms of tech, we’re told the systems are a little shaky. Some trainees report having to spend chunks of their day dealing with IT support to iron out “glitches”, but they tell us there are plans to roll out new laptops and upgrade the systems so this will hopefully smooth things over soon. RPC also provides all staff, including trainees, with a budget to purchase WFH kit.
There’s been a recent sustainability drive at the firm: a Be Green Committee promotes “green culture” and hosts events every month. Recent events include a smoothie/bike day and vegan waffle making. There are also recycling bins dotted around the office, reusable coffee cups and a food box for employees to use. The firm’s lawyers also get involved with volunteering initiatives and a team of 15 recently helped Hong Kong-based NGO Crossroads Foundation unpack and process donated goods for those in need in the area.
RPC takes on roughly 16 interns during its two summer vacation schemes. The schemes are shorter than most in Hong Kong, running for two weeks instead of the standard four weeks in June and July each year, mirroring the approach taken in the firm’s London office. Prospective applicants must be fluent in English and Mandarin, and be able to read and write Chinese.