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Freshfields' Hong Kong Work Experience Programme

Fostering community commitment and collaboration with A.S. Watson

At Freshfields, our commitment to the local community goes beyond legal practice.

Our annual Hong Kong Work Experience Programme exemplifies this dedication by providing minority students with valuable work placements at our Hong Kong office. This initiative not only offers aspiring lawyers an immersive experience but also strengthens our ties to the community we serve.

Strengthening the impact through collaboration

For many years, Freshfields has been at the forefront of this programme, offering first- and second-year law students from diverse backgrounds the opportunity to explore their legal careers. In 2023, we took a significant step forward by partnering with our esteemed client, A.S. Watson, to elevate the programme and offer a more comprehensive experience to our students.

This collaboration aimed to enrich the experience of students eager to explore various avenues within the legal field. For this year's intake, Freshfields welcomed students selected by our trusted partners, The Zubin Foundation, and CareER. These organisations are dedicated to empowering Hong Kong's ethnic minorities and individuals with physical disabilities and neurodiversity, respectively.

A.S. Watson, a long-standing and valued client, enthusiastically embraced the opportunity to contribute to this initiative. Tracey Turner, Group General Counsel of A.S. Watson Group, expressed her excitement: ‘Freshfields has been a valued legal advisor to us for many years, and when we learned about the Work Experience Programme, we were eager to participate. It was a privilege to meet and work with The Zubin Foundation and CareER, two worthy Hong Kong NGOs who we are proud to support.’

A unique blend of in-house and private-practice experience

During the programme, students spent two weeks working within the A.S. Watson legal team and two weeks at Freshfields. This combination provided them with invaluable exposure to both in-house and private-practice legal environments. Tracey Turner commended the students, saying, ‘Hosting students nominated by the NGOs was a genuine pleasure. We thoroughly enjoyed witnessing the dedication and enthusiasm displayed by these students during their time with us. We hope that this invaluable experience will serve as a strong foundation for their future journeys towards successful careers in the field of law.’

One student, thrilled to work with both Freshfields and A.S. Watson, shared, ‘The exposure to private practice and in-house deepened my understanding of the legal industry and has been instrumental in shaping my ambitions to become a lawyer. It provided me with skills and experiences that will directly contribute to my success.’

A rich learning experience

During their time at Freshfields, students had the chance to shadow senior fee-earners across various practice groups, assist K-lawyers, and collaborate with Legal Solutions Specialists as part of the firm’s Hub. These experiences offered a holistic perspective on working in a global law firm and introduced students to working life in legal tech and business services. The students conducted research on diverse legal issues, from collective bargaining trends in Asian jurisdictions and M&A disclosure requirements, to antitrust document review, proofreading and drafting summaries of recent regulatory changes.

One student articulated the significance of these tasks: ‘I plan to fully utilise the hard and soft skills that I learned during the placement. I have sharpened my legal research and presentation skills and have continued developing effective communication skills, which will be important when facing clients or colleagues. I have also sharpened my attention to detail through the different assignments, which is crucial when a small variation can result in a big change.’

A collaborative success story

Reflecting on the collaboration, Robert Ashworth, partner and global co-head of M&A at Freshfields, said: ‘We were delighted to take our student work experience programme in Hong Kong to the next level by teaming up with A.S. Watson, a very valued and long-standing client. I’m certain this significantly enhanced the experience deserving students nominated by our NGO partners received. I congratulate them on completion of the programme and thank CareER and The Zubin Foundation for another successful year working together, as well as A.S. Watson, with whom it was a pleasure to work on this programme, and which underlines our shared and strongly-felt commitment to our local community.’

This collaboration between Freshfields and A.S. Watson in Hong Kong echoes a similar initiative in the UK, further strengthening our partnership and our shared commitment to fostering talent and nurturing aspiring legal professionals. In November 2022 Freshfields and the legal team at Superdrug – a subsidiary of A.S. Watson – ran a webinar for students on the firms’ Aspiring Professionals Programme in the UK. The event focussed on building students’ understanding of leading global businesses and encouraging them to use this information to think about their future careers. Students also had the opportunity to discuss a commercial case study in small groups facilitated by lawyers from both A.S. Watson and Freshfields.

A two-way learning journey

Amy Tye, Senior Manager for Diversity and Responsible Business at Freshfields, highlighted the significance of the Hong Kong Work Experience Programme: ‘The learnings are two-way. Students share their lived experiences and provide insight into the experiences of people from ethnic minorities in our predominantly Chinese community. Finding employment at organisations like Freshfields can be difficult because they are not native Cantonese or Mandarin speakers. Women can also face additional cultural barriers from pursuing higher education. Insights into these individuals’ experiences can help leaders shape policies.’

Welcoming these students not only inspires their ambitions but also serves as an opportunity to potentially welcome them as future lawyers. For one student, the experience was transformative: ‘My overall experience at the firm made me more passionate about becoming a lawyer. It was an enriching opportunity to witness the practical side of law, beyond textbooks and case studies. The dedication and expertise demonstrated by the people at Freshfields served as an inspiration, reinforcing my desire to pursue a legal career.’

At Freshfields, we remain dedicated to building a diverse legal community and nurturing the aspirations of tomorrow's legal professionals while collaborating with partners like A.S. Watson to make a lasting impact.