In an effort to increase the ratio of local to international professionals in Hong Kong's legal sector, Hong Kong's professional group of lawyers may plug a loophole to make it more difficult for international lawyers to practice law in Hong Kong.

According to the South China Morning Post, the Law Society proposed restricting the work of lawyers from outside Hong Kong, giving them power only to offer legal advice in appropriate overseas jurisdictions.  

Under the new rules, law firms in Hong Kong would have to employ two local lawyers for every international lawyer, increasing the ration from 1:1.

Currently, there are 1,500 registered foreign lawyers from 34 jurisdictions in Hong Kong -- or 15 percent of practicing lawyers.

Under the current Foreign Lawyers Registration Rules, foreign lawyers cannot practice Hong Kong law. However, according to the Post, some law firms hire foreign lawyers or mainland law graduates to work on finance and corporate matters related to Hong Kong, but involving mainland companies with US businesses. 

What's the loophole? Law school graduates who have passed their exams in the US, the UK, or Australia are appointed as 'advisors' or paralegal and earn billable expenses. They technically do not count as 'practicing' lawyers because local lawyers sign the legal recommendation.

Critics fear that the new proposal might drive qualified foreign lawyers away.

The Post reported that lawmaker Dennis Kwok said, "I’m worried this would lead to an exodus of foreign lawyers to Singapore, and that it could hurt Hong Kong’s international reputation as a legal hub."

Stay tuned for updates.

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