By Mardi Wilson
Last month I attended a breakfast meeting about the Greater Bay Area in China, which comprises Hong Kong, Macau and nine cities in the neighbouring Guangdong province. I came away from the discussion really quite excited about what could develop in the coming years.
Why do I think this will be exciting?
For me, I am always interested what trends and economic changes are going to impact the workforce, so the potential to open up a wider pool of skilled and experienced labour would be welcome in the Hong Kong area and possibly a new way of attracting talent to the region.
However, for the legal sector — it’s not to say that overnight the market will suddenly have an influx of lawyers from over the China border. Quite the opposite in reality. Hong Kong and China operate under different legal jurisdictions. Many of the financial institutions and multinational corporations in Hong Kong look for global experience with their in-house legal teams. Will they be able to find home grown lawyers in the Greater Bay Area with the skill sets needed? Or will they still have to look overseas as is sometimes the case?
That said, opportunities will certainly grow and looking at the long game, this makes a lot of sense. There is a rapidly increasing appetite for Mandarin speaking lawyers with great legal experience. I can see the possibility of legal skill sets of lawyers developing with time, raising the bar of legal work — regardless of whether they are mainland China or Hong Kong lawyers. Private practice firms will be able to access to lawyers in a wider job market and be able to deliver on China-related matters more easily. In-house legal teams frequently operate across offices in mainland China and Hong Kong, meaning that attracting talent to work in a different (lower cost) office location could be a benefit to the business.
Greater mobility of people in the area could mean that we see people living in one part of the Greater Bay Area and working in another. This is not unheard of by any means, it’s just a question on what kind of commute are people prepared to do. The transportation links are already in place to facilitate this with both the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge and the Hong Kong–Guangzhou High Speed Train. After all, in Europe there are commuters that live in Brighton and travel 1.5-2 hours to London, people who live on the French/German sides of the side of the border but commute to Switzerland for work.
There are still questions about immigration, tax status and as I’ve mentioned, legal qualifications, that will need to be smoothed over. For the foreseeable future, it is immediately obvious that the high cost of living in Hong Kong could be eased by making it possible to live elsewhere, more cheaply, in the Greater Bay Area. Will the government plans for the Greater Bay Area be too good to resist when it comes to working and moving around the region? We’ll just have to wait and see.