Navigating the Legal Job Market Series: A Guide for Law Graduates in Hong Kong

by Chris Tang in Articles

DatePosted on May 18, 2024 at 12:52 PM
Share share

As an external recruitment consultant specialising in the legal profession, I’ve seen firsthand the challenges law students face when seeking their first job in the legal industry. With the downturn in both the local Hong Kong and China economies seen since 2022, coupled with the four years of Covid-19 restrictions in Hong Kong and the increasing downturn in the global economy, this is proving to be one of toughest eras in modern times to enter the legal profession. The transition from academia to the professional world can be daunting, but with the right approach and resources, securing an entry-level position is within reach.

Understanding the Challenges

Let's make one thing clear at the outset: the legal job market is ultra-competitive; it always has been. To many, however, 2024 feels different, with competition at an all-time high against a backdrop of well-documented setbacks affecting the Special Administrative Region. Law graduates must stand out even more among their peers if they have any chance of pursuing a long-term career in the law or related field

For training contract applicants in Hong Kong, law firm employers often prioritise candidates with excellent degree grades (cumulative GPA 3.5 or Class 2:1 or above) and internships from international law firms and reputable domestic commercial law firms. The reliance on recruitment agencies for graduate jobs is less common with some exceptions, which means graduates need to be proactive and direct in their job search.

There's a whole exciting world to explore!

Exploring Your Options

Graduates have several avenues to explore when seeking entry-level legal roles:

Internships: These provide valuable hands-on experience and a glimpse into the daily workings of the legal field. Don't limit yourself to law firms when applying for internships, reach out to Heads of Legal, Compliance or Corporate Governance, or the company's HR team for internship opportunities. The added advantage to seeking an internship in a company is that you can focus on the industries that interest you the most. If you have an area of law that really interests you, do your homework on what types of companies would have that need in their in-house legal team. If your first degree was in biochemistry, consider a career that merges your interest in science and law — intellectual property, and particularly patents. If that interests you, look to pharmaceutical companies. medical instruments and related industries.  

Paralegal Positions: Paralegal roles offer practical experience and exposure to various practical legal tasks like taking down witness statements, conducting legal research and monitoring legal updates, compiling disclosure bundles (in litigation), due diligence files (in M&A) or verification reports (in IPOs), as well as companies, land, intellectual property, and other registry updates and filing duties. Whilst many see this as a 'stepping stone' towards an eventual training contract, employers are increasingly looking at ways to lay out a genuine long-term track for 'career paralegals.'

For in-house paralegals, their career path could lead to eventually becoming a legal manager, often drafting and negotiating complex commercial contracts that are usually reserved for mid and senior level lawyers, or to become a company secretary, or working in compliance, risk or corporate governance, including ESG. 

In-House Compliance: Large companies, particularly financial institutions and large retailers will have a separate in-house compliance team. Often, they will have entry-level compliance or risk roles for law graduates, and they offer a genuine alternative career path with manager roles and eventually, the title of head of compliance. Working in such teams give you greater insights into the working dynamics between different business units, stakeholders, as well as the legal team and the compliance team. 

A successful career requires good planning and informed decision making.

Not all roads lead to Law Firms

Law students shouldn't see the above suggestions as the 'be all and end all' to their legal career. Far from it. A 'legal career' does not exclusively mean 'getting qualified' as a solicitor or attorney. There are so many alternative careers you can pursue where a law degree is so highly valued because of the discipline, knowledge and thought processes you have developed or gained in this time. There is no rule that you must qualify once you complete a law degree, and there is no shame whatsoever in saying that you don't wish to follow this path. In fact, it takes a brave person to assert this as their belief in their heart. Follow your own path, not one that is expected of you by others. 

Even if you do have this burning desire to become a qualified lawyer one day, you don't have to land on your eventual goal in one swift move. There are other, indirect ways to get there; you just need to look longer term and embark somewhere on your journey that makes sense to your career plan and leads you back to the path you were seeking. Or you may in fact enjoy the area you follow at the outset and develop a successful career in that.

Law graduates are actually spoilt for career choicesHere are some examples: 

Business Development and Marketing — Law Firms: These roles within law firms help build essential skills in client relations and strategic growth, as well as give you an overall understanding of how different teams are marketed.

Legal media: Seek an internship or entry-level job on the editorial team of one of the major media outlets including, Lexis Nexus, Thomson Reuters (Hong Kong Lawyer Magazine), and Asian Legal Business.  

Legal Technology: This is one area that isn't highlighted anywhere near enough for law students. Unless you've been hiding under a rock, you'll be aware that we are currently experiencing an explosion in the development of technology and AI, and none more so pronounced as the legal industry. As well as online legal resource providers Lexis Nexis and Butterworths that offer more traditional legal resource products, did you know Thomas Reuters' Practical Law have an editorial department in Hong Kong?

Hong Kong and the wider Greater Bay Area (GBA) is a hub for new technologies, and you are in a prime place to be in to explore technology companies, small and large, that integrates your interest in an emerging industry with your legal knowledge.  

Further, more international law firms have legal technologists in their Hong Kong office, some who are law graduates and some who are qualified lawyers. So, seek out Heads of IT or the HR department at those firms to see if they would consider hiring you as an entry-level analyst where you'll understand how technology is intertwined with a firm's legal operations and helps improve efficiencies and productivity.  

Alternative Legal Services Providers: these providers offer legal operational support and other legal-related services outside the traditional law firm model, often incorporating legal tech in the sub-industry known as 'New Law', and is a fast growing field in Asia. These can include Legal Managed Services (working in a team to work on high volume contract management), and e-discovery services, amongst others. Our sister company, Yuzu is an ALSP operating in this sector and we are open to applicants from law and other graduates interested in working in a Legal Managed Service team with a graduate entry-level role in contract review work. If you would like to register as a candidate on our bench, apply on our jobs board by clicking on the link

Investigations, financial crimes and regulatory consultancies: as the names suggest, these areas work within a legal or regulatory framework, and there are options for working externally as consultants or in-house with financial institutions. 

Accounting & Finance: a significant number of qualified accountants either studied a law degree as their first degree or at some point in their career study a post-graduate degree in law or a legal related field such as corporate governance. Moreover, there will be some law related modules in the accounting examinations that you have special dispensation from taking if you have a recognised law degree. As an example of how professions can cross-over, many Chartered company secretaries have a Chartered accounting professional qualification as well. 

An education in law creates many different career opportunities.

Corporate Finance: if investments are your thing and you have a law degree consider a career in corporate finance. Most professionals in this field will have started out as a trainee and qualified accountant, before moving into the corporate finance team of their firm where they advise on M&A deals or IPOs, or a mixture of both. In-house career paths are also available with investment banks, private equity firms, venture capitalists, asset management firms, and hedge funds. There is also a whole world of other investment fields you can pursue if you pursue this career from crypto, derivatives, structured products, transaction management and other investment and corporate banking fields.  

Insolvency Practitioners: if bankruptcies and insolvency work interest you, consider pursuing a career in this field. Similarly to corporate finance, many insolvency practitioners have an accounting and finance qualification, others are lawyers who have switched to this profession. 

Immigration Consultancies: If you have an interest in helping clients to navigate through the regulatory environment and to support them or their employees to move from one country to another permanently or temporarily with work visas, there are a number of large and smaller operators in the city who specialise in this field. Look for law firms, global consulting firms, and independent consulting firms who have immigration teams to assist their larger clients with international relocations. 

Company Secretaries and corporate governance: Perhaps a less obvious option but one which offers excellent career paths and qualifications for law students. For more information, check out the website of the Hong Kong Corporate Governance Institute, or the more catchy acronym HKCGI:

Risk Management, Crisis Management, Management Consulting: disputes or trouble doesn't always lead to court action. Prevention and troubleshooting can take other forms and a legally trained mind would be high up on the list of criteria among employers in this field. I discuss this area in more detail in an earlier article, click here to read. 

Trademarks & Patent Attorneys — these fall into a highly specialised area of law. If you have a science background or a general interest in the protection of intellectual property rights, consider applying to Trademark Attorney or Patent Attorney firms. With a science-related degree, patent attorneys are niche, high in demand and enables you to embrace two areas of your passion, science and the law. You could, of course, pursue a career as an Intellectual Property lawyer in a law firm, but if you really want to dig deep into the technicalities of a pharmaceutical invention for example, the patent attorney career path may be better suited to you. 

Brand Protection and Brand Commercialisation Consultancies: brand protection focuses on the practical and commercial safeguards of protecting a brand, such as anti-counterfeit measures, product authentications (blockchain increasingly being used in the supply chain process), and criminal law enforcement. In comparison, trademark and patent attorneys focus on the legal and technical safeguards of protecting a trade mark or patent through trade mark, logo and patent filings, as well as taking (civil) legal action to stop another party from infringing their client's intellectual property rights.   

Public Sector roles: depending where your interests lie, consider legal related roles in the public sector, such as regulatory bodies including the Securities & Futures Commission (SFC), the Hong Kong Monetary Authority (HKMA), the Hong Kong Law Society, the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC), the Competition Commission, court and Department of Justice (DOJ)/prosecution roles, and more. For practical roles applying within a legal or regulatory framework consider social work, NGOs. And whilst it's reputation had taken a big hit in 2019 during the period of civil unrest, there is no doubt that the police force and the wider enforcement teams of coastguards, immigration, and customs are some of the best and most professional in the world.  

Arbitration Centre: the Hong Kong International Arbitration Centre (HKIAC) is one of the main arbitration centres in Asia. check out their careers page to see if there are any suitable entry level roles available:

Academia: the teaching of law is a career often overlooked and helps you develop your technical knowledge of the law more than any law firm role ever could simply because you have the luxury of time to delve into specific areas of law. In this career, you can develop a network among law firms and be a part of industry groups that seek your expertise, such as in maritime or insurance. 

HR Consulting and the in-house HR Profession: another way in which you can help steer a business through a regulatory environment with practical, strategic advice rather than technical legal advice, HR consulting is a flourishing industry worldwide. Being a law graduate will have given you the skills to interpreting laws and regulations. In this industry, it gives you the foundation to develop a knowledge of labour laws in different jurisdictions and advising clients in this context on a strategy for their business expansion plans or to handle day-to-day business challenges, the so-called HR Business Partner role. 

Hong Kong Bar mini pupillages: this work experience is also useful to have on your CV and may lead to internship or paralegal opportunities with law firms.  

If you're reading this and have other suggestions, please comment below, and I will update this article from time to time. 

Mature working students 

Some of our readers are likely to be part time law students working in another industry, such as banking and finance or consulting, and they may have studied a law degree to support their existing role in, for example, compliance or risk management. Even if their existing or previous roles were in compliance, there is a large proportion of compliance managers who switched to this area after many years working in the front-end, commercial side of the business. Many compliance heads and senior managers prefer that because they feel the person has a good understanding, first and foremost, of how the business is run, and what practical solutions are available to drive results whilst being compliant, getting to solutions faster.  

Not all roads lead to law firms. Look at how many different industries there are in this view alone.

Tips for Securing Roles

Showcase Your Academic Achievements: Highlight your grades and any academic accolades.

Leverage Internships: Gain experience through internships, even if they’re unpaid, to build your resume. However, more does not mean better. Anywhere between 1-3 internships will suffice, do not go overboard on these. Alternatively, select the best, most prestigious organisations for your CV, or at least the most relevant to the career you wish to pursue.

Build Your Professional Network: Attend industry events, join legal associations, and connect with professionals on platforms like LinkedIn.

Building your network can be critical to your short and long term career prospects

Tailor Your Applications: Have two or three different CV/resumes with more focus on one or some of your strengths and a cover letter template as a starting point for your application which you can adapt to reflect the requirements of the role in question. If you studied intellectual property and shipping as your electives in your JD or law degree, and you're applying for an internship at a law firm which has a strong reputation for shipping law, put the shipping elective above the IP law elective on your CV. Prioritise the things that matter to the reader at the top of the first page because naturally, people read documents from the top-down. 

Prepare For Interviews: Research the firm or company and practice answering common legal interview questions (take a look at our job interview tips article for some inspiration).

Look To Your Personal Network: Do you have friends or relatives who work in the legal industry or in an organisation with an in-house legal team or department that interests you? Try to make use of those connections by asking them to refer your profile to their HR department or, the relevant team or departmental leader. 

Where to Look

Direct Applications: Apply directly to law firms and in-house legal teams of companies.

Legal Recruitment Agencies: While less common for graduate roles, agencies can provide access to exclusive job openings. It's worth registering with one or two recruiters. 

Online Job Portals: Websites like Indeed, Glassdoor, and specialised legal job boards are valuable resources.

University Career Services: Utilise your university’s career centre for job listings and career advice.

Overcoming Language Barriers

A good level of fluency in Mandarin Chinese is often required for many legal related jobs in Hong Kong and increasingly in Singapore. For those lacking language skills consider enrolling in an intensive Mandarin course on the Mainland. In Hong Kong, consider providers such as Yale-China Chinese Language Centre, CUHK, or even online courses.

Note, you'll be fully immersed in the language and culture if you learn Chinese on the Mainland rather than in Hong Kong where English and Cantonese are all too commonly spoken, and similarly in Singapore where English or another Southeast Asian or South Asian language is frequently spoken. If you don't have the time or finances to do so, join a language exchange group, such as on, although expect far slower progress. A combination of YouTube tuition and language books will also be a powerful tool for the dedicated and self-disciplined learners.  


The journey to securing your first legal role may be challenging, but it’s also an opportunity to grow and define your career path. By understanding the career options available to you, and by planning your job application strategy accordingly, law graduates can navigate the job search with confidence and success.


Remember, persistence and a willingness to learn are your greatest assets in this competitive field.



About the Author

Chris Tang

Chris is a co-founder of the Star Anise Group comprising Star Anise Legal, Yuzu ALSP, and SALT. A former practising English corporate M&A lawyer with Top 50 UK law firms, you can find him these days regularly posting on LinkedIn. You can connect with Chris here:

Read more Articles by this author