Practicing Law in Hong Kong

Marcia Ellis '95 Advises Students On Developing Careers in Asia.
New York, October 23, 2013—Young lawyers interested in building careers in Asia should strive for a diversity of international law experience, said Marcia Ellis ’95, a partner in the Hong Kong office of Morrison & Foerster, in an Oct. 1 presentation at Columbia Law School.
Marcia Ellis '95
Those who plan to practice in Hong Kong should consider firms with more than a handful of partners on site, Ellis said, to have opportunities to develop a variety of experience involving different areas of law. She argued that lawyers should prioritize becoming familiar with common issues that frequently arise in cross border transactions, and suggested that it can be harder to develop that type of expertise working exclusively in New York.
“Five years ago I would have said you should start in New York, but now starting in Hong Kong may be to some people’s advantage,” she said. “You develop cross-border meta-knowledge once you’ve had a steady diet of this type of work and learned what questions to ask.”
Ellis explained that to practice in mainland China, Chinese regulations require newly minted US lawyers first to practice law outside of China for at least two years. Foreign lawyers are barred from practicing Chinese law, she said, but work together with Chinese law firms on the international aspects of transactions in China and on both in-bound and out-bound transactions.
Thomas Chou
Ellis advised that students be prepared for rapid changes in a market undergoing transition. China may change its laws to permit foreign law firms to practice Chinese law in selected areas. In thepast, Ellis said, many lawyers have found success in Hong Kong as generalists, but specialization has become increasingly important to be competitive.
“You have to think both about your first job, and your whole career,” Ellis said. “You will have to continually reinvent yourself throughout your career.”
Thomas Chou, one of Ellis’ colleagues at Morrison & Foerster, was also on hand during the presentation to offer insights into the Hong Kong market. The talk was sponsored by the Center for Chinese Legal Studies and the Society for Chinese Law.