The largest and most populous continent, Asia houses a rapidly growing and increasingly complex economy. With so many languages, cultures, mythologies, literatures, religions, art forms and political histories, Asia is an endlessly fascinating destination for the culturally curious.

Legal Market

As a huge economic centre, Asia – especially Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Tokyo and Singapore – offer a lot of complex and challenging legal work. We are now in what has been dubbed the Asian century and most international law firms see their major growth in Asia and see Asia as often the most important profit centre for the firm in the next few years.

Remuneration

Compensation packages are very generous, which combined with often very low rates of tax (eg Hong Kong and Singapore), mean that lawyers can afford to live centrally and explore the extraordinary world at their doorstep.

Visas

Though overseas lawyers are welcomed and visas easy to obtain, you will be required to obtain an employer sponsored visa before you start work in Asia. Requirements vary from country to country and you will need to speak with the relevant authorities to obtain the latest visa information. Visas are currently being granted very quickly for Hong Kong and Singapore, in some cases the turnaround time can be two weeks.

You should always rely on your own up to the minute enquiries with the relevant immigration authorities and / or legal advice in relation to obtaining a valid work visa

More detailed information on visas for Singapore can be found at Contact Singapore.
More detailed information on visas for Hong Kong can be found at the Hong Kong Immigration Department.

Re-qualification

Requirements vary depending on the jurisdiction. For example, in Hong Kong, you must have at least 2 years post-admission experience and pass the Overseas Lawyers’ Qualification Examination (OLQE). You should check requirements with the relevant law society in the jurisdiction in which you are interested in.  

The Law Society of England and Wales website provides a wealth of valuable information of requalification in the Asian region.

Languages

In Singapore there are no language issues and nearly everyone speaks English (mostly as a first language). The culture is heavily influenced by India, Malaysia and China and so is culturally diverse and interesting and this mix heavily influences the culinary world. Having Chinese or Indonesian language skills is however a bonus in the workplace.

In Hong Kong language skills (particularly Mandarin) have become very important in the work place, and particularly for certain specialist areas of law which include Corporate / IPO transactions. However language skills are not required for all roles and certain practice groups do not require Chinese languages at all. Whilst Mandarin is increasingly more important in the workplace, the local language in Hong Kong is Cantonese, which is also a very valuable business tool In most places English is widely spoken or at least understood and you can get by easily, but learning a few words of Cantonese will go a long way.  

For lawyers wanting a very different and perhaps less western experience when working overseas, Japan and China offer very exciting opportunities. These centres really do suit those people who want to immerse themselves in Japanese or Chinese culture and language as well as learning how to operate in these business environments. Most roles in China do require business level Mandarin but this is not always the case and for some areas of law (e.g. Finance) most deals (undertaken by the international firms) are documented in English and Chinese skills are not always necessary.

Japanese is a real plus for any lawyer moving to Tokyo but is not always a requirement by law firms looking to hire lawyers for international work in Japan.