Lewis Silkin creates HR consultancy, bolsters HK office

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From left; Catherine Leung, Kenneth Leung, and Kathryn Weaver

Lewis Silkin’s managing partner in Hong Kong, Kathryn Weaver, says the global firm has big plans for expansion in the city including boosting its IP practice and developing a human resources (HR) consultancy.

The employment and immigration specialist firm’s Asia-Pacific desk in the UK works with the regional office in Hong Kong to support clients based in the Asia-Pacific with their UK and European legal requirements, as well as supporting their legal needs in Asia.

“We’ve been here a while, but we were originally a registered foreign law firm, and then in January this year we became a local Hong Kong law firm,” Weaver told Asia Business Law Journal.

“At the same time, we bolstered our resources by bringing in two very senior hires, Catherine Leung and Kenneth Leung, who are renowned in the market for their employment expertise and tax expertise, respectively.

“We’re now a five-person employment team, which is actually a pretty large team for Hong Kong. Our intention is now to grow steadily, bringing in one or two employment lawyers over the next period of time, say the next few months, and bringing it up to about 15 to 20 employment lawyers within the next few years.”

Weaver said the firm also intended to build out the IP side of its business, focusing on brand protection and a similar model to the firm’s UK office. “Our UK operations are around 50% employment law and 50% IP commercial.”

She said the firm had also developed a human resources (HR) consultancy called Worksphere, in addition to the traditional legal services that most law firms have in employment, immigration and reward areas.

Clients seeking assistance with issues from maternity leave cover to a compensation and benefits programme, or staff training, or an investigation had all services covered under Worksphere, she said.

“It may not be that you want a lawyer, and you might want a HR person … We can offer you both, because we have both,” she said.

“But [also] for example diversity, sexual harassment, stress management and mental health, and that training can be delivered by lawyers and by HR people, separately or together. Then we also have global cultural fluency, and that basically assists businesses to understand how to navigate between different countries, and how to work with different cultures.”

Sexual harassment is a topic that law firms and the wider business community are addressing following the #MeToo movement and other prompters in the past two or three years. Weaver said the issue took a while to make an impact on Asia, compared to Europe and the US.

“I think law firms do have an important role to go in and investigate these issues, whether they’re doing so as a service to their clients or whether they’re doing so internally with their own acts and issues,” she said. “And Lewis Silkin works with a lot of law firms … we act for about 40 law firms, and what we do is go and investigate issues, not always sexual harassment, various types of issues, but in recent years there has been quite a lot of need for us to investigate sexual harassment matters in law firms.”

Weaver said that with Asia’s disparate cultures, approaches to sexual harassment had also differed.