The 35 or so Scots and visitors from Hong Kong who attended the Society’s special business breakfast this week could be forgiven for thinking the occasion might turn out to be something of a birthday celebration. After all, 1 July marks the date that both Scotland and Hong Kong underwent a major transfer of power. In Scotland’s case, devolved authority officially transferred from Westminster to Holyrood on that day in 1999. Two years earlier, sovereignty for the new Special Administrative Region of Hong Kong passed from Britain to China.
It’s true that there was some discussion about the “one country, two systems” principle. But the real purpose of the event, part of the Society’s evolving international development strategy, was to identify growth opportunities in Hong Kong and the burgeoning Chinese economic area, as well as attract business to the Scottish legal marketplace.
And the breakfast briefing offered some fascinating insights from our largely self-governing peers, not least the speed with which this event was organised – it started with a conversation at the Commonwealth Law Conference in Hong Kong only 12 weeks previously. In some ways that reflects the nature of the business culture in the region – responsive, vibrant and entrepreneurial in an economy recently ranked the freeest in the world.
As an example of driving forward opportunities, Hong Kong has grown to become number three in the world for handling international arbitration – an area of business earmarked for growth by the Scottish Government and some in the solicitors’ profession. It is also worth heeding – particularly given the current recession in our own marketplace – that the Hong Kong economy has experienced an average increase in GDP of almost 4% over the past 12 years.
Scots were instrumental in the very formation of Hong Kong as a trading port and colony. And Scottish solicitors, with their reputation for high standards and integrity, have retained an important role in the local economy. But more opportunities exist, which was evidently recognised by two businesses represented at the breakfast – one the client of a legal firm who had brought them along, the other a legal firm itself. Both used the event to talk to former Hong Kong solicitor Gregory So, the Under Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development, and officials from Invest Hong Kong, who were able to offer practical help in the two different sets of circumstances.
The message? Hong Kong, with its British-based system of law, is undoubtedly an attractive place to do business in and with, and many English law firms have already set up bases there to take advantage of that. The Law Society of Scotland is committed to leveraging our connections in other jurisdictions to do likewise for those Scottish firms that have expressed an interest in doing more international business. It is for those of our members to take up the exciting challenges on offer.Lorna Jack is Chief Executive of the Law Society of Scotland