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Hong Kong legal seas brace for influx of maritime lawyers

Hill Dickinson is amongst the firms that have recently begun expanding its global maritime practices.

Reflecting the government’s goal of strengthening Hong Kong’s position as an international maritime hub, legal firms in the city have made it a priority to expand their maritime practices. Amongst these firms is Hill Dickinson.

Damien Laracy, partner and head of Hill Dickinson Hong Kong, said the firm fortified its maritime legal team with 10 new hires in 2023, including ship finance practitioners.

“There has been rising demand for ship sale and purchase and ship finance, as shipowners are increasingly looking to decarbonise by finding or commissioning greener vessels to comply with new international regulations and market ESG standards,” Laracy said.

“We believe that the recent expansion of our transaction and ship finance practice will enable us to increase our service base to meet these enhanced demands,” Laracy added.

The government has made it a priority to nurture homegrown maritime legal talents with the creation of the Taskforce on Maritime and Port Development Strategy.

In September 2023, the government also launched the “Maritime Services Traineeship Scheme – Legal” which Laracy said “provides a monthly subsidy to law firms and barristers with maritime business to provide traineeship for those who aspire to a career in maritime law.”

Insolvency, recovery

Apart from maritime, the insolvency and recovery practice has also seen rising demand in Hong Kong.

Reed Smith Richards Butler LLP, for example, has helped many listed companies in the city with their recovery and in managing their losses.

“Parties are fighting harder to apportion losses to others and some of this can only be achieved through legal proceedings. Our reputable disputes team at Reed Smith Richards Butler LLP (RSRB) is at the forefront helping our clients secure better deals,” Denise Jong, partner and co-chair of RSRB’s Global Corporate Group, told Hong Kong Business.

“Regulatory investigations into listed companies under financial stress are also on the rise. [We also] stay at the forefront of defending listed companies and their independent non-executive directors in this regard,” Jong added.

In relation to the boom of insolvency matters in recent years, Hill Dickinson has been very "hands-on" in one of the most prominent legal decisions of 2023.

"We obtained a positive judgement in the Court of Final Appeal in the case of Guy Kwok-Hung Lam v Tor Asia Credit Master Fund LP [2023] HKCFA 9, which will have significant bearing in Hong Kong and internationally on how the Companies Court will exercise its jurisdiction in the future in insolvency matters involving disputes governed by a foreign exclusive jurisdiction clause,” Bryan O’Hare of Hill Dickinson said.

Virtual assets, cryptocurrency 

Another sector which has seen rising demand for legal services is virtual assets and cryptocurrency.

“In recent years, the Hong Kong courts have indicated positive recognition of cryptocurrencies and crypto-assets, including granting interim relief over Bitcoins and recognising crypto-assets as property which can be held on trust,” Hill Dickinson partner, Yvette Yu, pointed out.
Being closely connected to China, Jong said Hong Kong’s legal industry has also seen an increasing cross border data compliance work in response to data regulatory changes in the Mainland.

“Hong Kong’s status as the only common law jurisdiction in China has always made Hong Kong a uniquely attractive forum for resolving disputes between international parties and local or Mainland Chinese parties,” Yu said.

"More than merely enabling lawyers to pursue maritime and commercial opportunities across the border, the GBA Legal Qualification Examination will also inevitably increase the strength of Hong Kong as a global legal dispute resolution hub," Laracy said.

“The GBA practising licence creates an environment that will be the foundation of closer connectivity between Mainland China, Hong Kong and Macau, and foster close cooperation between legal professionals,” he added.

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