Hong Kong

Published 11 December 2019

Hong Kong's data bar

Even during the first wave of massive protests that had just died down when GDR visited Hong Kong to carry out this survey, the city has remained one of the world’s premier centres of international business. Against that backdrop sits a competitive legal market and a wealth of data issues to deal with.

Most firms worth their salt advise regionally, with China and Singapore being especially important. There is also a growing emphasis on the emerging South East Asian markets such as Indonesia and Malaysia. Data localisation developments in Vietnam and a tough new data protection law in Thailand also make for interesting work, lawyers say.

Hong Kong’s international outlook, combined with its British history, means that the legal market is dominated by big international names. For now, that dominance seems set to continue, with only a small number of local firms vying for work. The entrance of the Big Four hasn’t had the disruptive effect it was expected to, either, observers say. One thing that is expected to change is a greater number of lawyers specialising in data as it becomes increasingly valuable – in both a defensive and positive way – to companies operating there.

Baker McKenzie

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The international powerhouse’s Hong Kong presence offers clients a holistic approach to data work, helping clients to capitalise on the value of data while also complying with relevant rules. The firm’s structure has data practice sitting within its global IP and technology practice, but also pulls in lawyers who specialise in specific industries such as finance and retail. Technology partners Paolo Sbuttoni and Nancy Leigh head up data work in Hong Kong. The firm benefits from a large international network of lawyers, giving clients access to a range of expertise in various jurisdictions throughout the region.

Recent work includes advising a number of Asia-based hotels on the impact of the GDPR and developing Asia-Pacific privacy requirements. The firm also assists companies in several industries with data governance frameworks and policies, including advice on cross-border transfers.


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Deacons’ IP practice, headed by Charmaine Koo, covers data matters in Hong Kong and mainland China. Hong Kong’s largest homegrown firm has recently prioritised data work as a result of companies’ increasing focus on the value of data as an asset – something the firm has been particularly equipped to handle given its large IP practice. It also covers more traditional privacy work and regularly sits before the Privacy Commissioner.

The firm prides itself on its intricate knowledge of local markets, opting for a narrow but deep approach compared to the international firms’ more regional stance. Standout work includes advising a large consultancy firm on a data transfer agreement, representing a major tech company before the Privacy Commissioner, and writing privacy policies for international real estate and hotel groups.

DLA Piper

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DLA Piper’s Hong Kong office takes an international approach to data work, helping the many multinational companies that operate there to navigate the different realities of data regimes across Asia. Partners Carolyn Bigg and Scott Thiel coordinate multi-jurisdictional compliance projects, including offering practical advice on data analysis and tech projects in Hong Kong and mainland China. Data is part of DLA’s IP and technology practice, which covers more traditional privacy concerns alongside advice on adtech – a big issue for companies operating out of Hong Kong.

Recent work for Bigg includes providing advice on the Hong Kong legal aspects of international investment banks transferring data to overseas financial regulators. The firm has also advised a large multinational on its new global HR platform’s data protection compliance.

Hogan Lovells

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Data work within Hogan Lovells’ Hong Kong office sits in the firm’s IP and TMT practices, led by partners Mark Parsons and Eugene Low; several peers cite Parsons as an outstanding practitioner. On the advisory side, work includes assisting clients as they look to capitalise on the value of their data, with recent changes to Hong Kong’s open banking laws keeping the team busy. Contentious work focuses on data breaches across Asia, as well as assisting with the data aspect of law enforcement investigations.

Recent work includes advising fintech and e-commerce companies on open data rules and e-money regulations. The firm also assists retail, TMT and auto companies on data protection and cybersecurity matters.

King & Wood Mallesons

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King & Wood Mallesons is Hong Kong’s second-largest local firm, and tackles data work through several different practice areas. Technology lawyer Peter Bullock takes on a variety of work, including advising challenger banks on the data aspects of new virtual banking licences.

The firm also advises in newer areas such as cryptocurrency. The firm’s presence in China – where it originated – means it is uniquely placed to advise on data issues there, as well. Recent work includes advising an FMCG manufacturer on a digitisation programme, which required a data audit and consent review across numerous jurisdictions.

Mayer Brown

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The US giant operates out of Hong Kong as Mayer Brown, following a tie-up with large local firm Johnson Stokes & Master in 2008. Data veteran Gabriela Kennedy leads the firm’s practice and is global head of the firm’s IP team. Mayer Brown places data work within the IP practice in Asia, while it sits within the litigation practice in the US, given the differing type of work involved. The firm does a lot of work on Hong Kong breach notification, but goes beyond that to assist companies in protecting the value of their data.

The team has been kept busy with pan-Asian mandates from financial institutions as well as with a number of assignments involving strategic data privacy counselling at the design stage for projects for clients in sectors spanning property, retail, hospitality and aviation.

Norton Rose Fulbright

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Norton Rose’s Hong Kong data practice head Anna Gamvros receives high praise from her peers. Gamvros, who also heads the firm’s Asia-Pacific cyber risk practice, tackles traditional privacy issues for clients alongside technology and communications work. The firm’s depth of experience in different industries and jurisdictions means it provides well-rounded and practical advice on data issues. It works on a wide range of data issues, from data hub relocation projects to cybersecurity litigation, through to advertising and marketing advice.

Recent matters include assisting an Asian bank with the implementation of biometric authentication in its mobile app, and advising a major cosmetic brand on a breach incident that affected its website. The matter involved regulatory notification in 20 countries.

Pinsent Masons

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Pinsent Masons’ Hong Kong data practice is predominantly advisory, with a focus on assisting clients on two fronts: GDPR compliance for companies operating out of Hong Kong and compliance with the China’s cybersecurity regime. Lawyers that cover data work typically have a relatively broad practice that might include more general corporate work – meaning those lawyers see more of the clients’ business and can offer holistic advice.

Like other big international firms operating in Hong Kong, the firm sees its European and US connections as a major advantage, as it can offer Hong Kong companies expertise on issues in multiple jurisdictions. Recent work includes advising Hong Kong’s competition authority on its data protection policy, and helping retail WiFi provider Fanswave establish and roll out its consumer data collecting technology in shopping centres in Hong Kong