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Hong Kong > Legal market overview

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Compared to previous years, 2013 and 2014 saw Hong Kong’s legal market attain an atmosphere of relative stability. As such, many of the top firms are consolidating their positions, and the relentless lateral partner hires of yesteryear have evidently slowed.

Notwithstanding the stable market conditions, Hong Kong remains one of, if not the most competitive legal market in the world, a market where leading UK and US law firms now go toe-to-toe with each other on an equal footing. In such an environment, precedent-breaking developments occur with regularity. In 2014, Slaughter and May put aside decades of tradition by making a landmark lateral partner hire in the form of John Moore’s recruitment from Morrison & Foerster. Slaughter and May’s move is a tacit acknowledgement of the need for a robust US-law capability, and there are few with Moore’s reputation and connections.

The majority of the top Wall Street and US law firms localised some years ago by establishing Hong Kong law teams, often at a considerable cost in terms of remuneration packages. In doing so, some US firms propelled themselves to market leader status. One example is Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP, which is now considered an elite firm in M&A, capital markets (both debt and equity) and dispute resolution.

As Asia’s primary financial and legal market, Hong Kong will provide a testing battleground for international firms to assert their international statuses. Whether London’s Magic Circle can continue to dominate the market in the face of such heated competition from their American counterparts remains to be seen. However, it should be made clear that US and UK firms tend to operate vastly differing business models. UK firms have clung to the full-service and large-capacity model, while US firms have on the whole focused primarily on large transactions and high-stakes dispute resolution.

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