That shrinking feeling: space, staff and business are all cut

PUBLISHED : Monday, 06 January, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 06 January, 2003, 12:00am

Office size, staff size, business and fees have been halved since the handover at one Hong Kong law firm, a fate better than many others, senior partner Daniel Wong Kwok-tung said.

Mr Wong, of Fan, Wong & Tso, said even though the business had moved away from traditional sources of income such as conveyancing, employees had had to go without pay rises for up to five years. 'We haven't cut salaries because our staff have mortgages to pay that have not been reduced. Most have been with us for 15 years,' he said.

'But even so, our staff has gone from 70 to 40 people because many have left the legal field to engage in other businesses.'

Mr Wong said he knew of lawyers who had opted for job security by taking positions with the government or who had decided to leave the legal sector.

He said: 'Previously, government jobs were not so popular but now everyone is trying for them because they fear for their future in the commercial sector.'

Mr Wong's firm has moved from a 10,000 sq ft office in Central to 4,000 sq ft premises in Sheung Wan. Transactions that would usually allow the firm to charge up to $10,000 in fees are now completed for half that amount or less.

'Even old customers and friends now call first to ask how much we charge and compare prices with what others have to offer,' he said. 'Basically, there are not too many deals in Hong Kong. If people are not affluent, they cut down on litigation.'

He said couples who were unhappily married were not seeking divorces because of the cost and were merely tolerating each other.

Mr Wong said some companies were looking to expand in the mainland market, but the lack of insurance coverage was a major obstacle.

'It is a matter of weighing liability with benefit. China is not covered by insurance . . . and you've got to have a trustworthy connection with a Chinese firm.'