The Law Society of Hong Kong has been warned by major international law firms that plans to change rules governing overseas lawyers could have a ‘colossal'  negative effect in the jurisdiction.

The Law Society’s proposals would require international firms practising in the special administrative region to hire two domestic lawyers for each foreign lawyer, double the current quota. The proposals also stipulate that lawyers from outside Hong Kong should be able to give legal advice only in cases involving the jurisdictions they are registered in rather than cases that merely involve overseas elements, as is currently the case.

A spokesperson for the Hong Kong Law Society confirmed to the Gazette that a consultation was open and that the deadline for responses had been extended from 1 November to the end of December. The spokesperson said the current feeling was that the ‘one-to-one’ ratio was ‘not sufficient’.

Lawyers from mainland China would be classed as a ‘foreign lawyer’ under the proposals, the Law Society confirmed.

But 15 international firms with a presence in Hong Kong, including Davis Polk & Wardwell, Kirkland & Ellis and Latham & Watkins, are concerned that the plans will curtail foreign lawyers.

In a letter to the Law Society, obtained by the South China Morning Post, they warned: ‘In particular, [the international firms] are concerned that the implementation of this proposal will have colossal negative repercussions for the economy of Hong Kong and for Hong Kong’s status as an international financial centre’.

The proposal would seek to change the Legal Practitioners Ordinance, the main legislation governing the legal profession in Hong Kong.