Few companies can claim to have such a long and prestigious history as Hong Kong law firm Deacons. The firm's founder, William Bridges, arrived in Hong Kong in 1851, just nine years after Hong Kong Island was ceded to Britain under the Treaty of Nanking. His arrival on the "barren rock," as Hong Kong was then called, was to practice law at the invitation of the Governor's Private Secretary, William Mercer.
As one of the colony's first barristers, Mr Bridges quickly developed a lucrative practice feeding off litigation which quickly flared in the competitive colony. His busy schedule in the Supreme Court helped him earn a reputation as a strong and capable opponent, and Dr Bridges, as he later became, also served as acting Attorney General as well as Colonial Secretary from time to time.
Bridges left Hong Kong after 10 years, by which time, Hong Kong's commercial potential was undeniable. The robust trading post was coming into its own. The rule of law was gaining pace. And, thanks to Bridges' pioneering spirit, a robust and dynamic legal practice had been born.
Those responsible for Bridges' practice after his departure elected to act as solicitors rather than barristers, following the separation of the professions after their temporary fusion. Operating from offices near the Supreme Court on Queen's Road, the Deacons of today was becoming a recognisable entity.
The firm's namesake, Victor Deacon, arrived in Hong Kong aboard the Peninsula and Oriental steamship "Ravenna" on July 7, 1880.
The 33-year-old solicitor joined the partnership of Messrs Brereton and Wotton, a direct continuation of Bridges' original practice. While it had been just 19 years since Bridges' departure, much had changed and the practice was now one of four firms of solicitors that were flourishing in Hong Kong.
In just two years, he had quickly become respected as one of Hong Kong's leading conveyancers, and in 1882, Mr Deacon was admitted as a partner, thus adding his own name to the firm's.
Hong Kong entered a period of strong growth over the next 20 years which saw it and the law firm expand significantly into the 20th century.
The firm moved in 1901 to new offices in Ice House Street, where it found itself separated by just a narrow alley from Messrs Johnson Stokes and Master. According to reports from the time, "Communication in case of need was frequently obtained by vociferous shouting from one window to another."
That arrangement lasted only a few years. In 1904, the firm took residence in the recently completed Prince's Building, a luxury four-story edifice at 1 Des Voeux Road on the new Chater reclamation.
Just two years later, Mr Deacon bade farewell to Hong Kong to return to his native England. During his time in the then colony, he brought renewed focus to the legal practice which would continue to bear his name in perpetuity.
The outbreak of World War I had little impact on the territory, other than a temporary shortage of solicitors as men signed up for the war effort. The territory felt the full brunt of World War II with the surrender of Hong Kong to the Japanese in 1941 after a bloody siege.
The foreign community became prisoners of war. Many died of malnutrition and physical abuse under their incarceration, including two Deacons assistants. Wai-chiu Hung ("Willie") the last remaining member of the firm, fought valiantly to keep the office running, but ultimately the office was requisitioned and the firm's files, papers and books were discarded and destroyed.
It was to this desolation that many of the former members of the firm returned when the war ended in 1945. Yet there was little time for mourning. The practice had to simply be rebuilt, just like the lives of millions of other people around the world.
Willie, who had fought so loyally to keep the office running after all other members of the firm had been imprisoned, was made partner, only the second Chinese partner in the firm's history. Soon after, Wong Wai Pat became the firm's first Chinese articled clerk, later becoming partner in 1959 and the firm's first Chinese senior partner in 1974. He remains with the firm to this day as Hong Kong's most senior practising solicitor.
In 1962, Prince's Building was zoned for demolition and Deacons moved into new offices in Union Building (later Swire House and today the location of 11 Chater Road).
The move helped drive the firm's growth and by the mid-1970s, Deacons was a busy full-service business law firm and a highly-respected name in commercial circles.
Deacon's client base, historically, had been very domestic. But in the '80s and '90s, increasingly, a significant number of international clients wanted to use a local firm -- Deacons is a Hong Kong firm and always has been -- to help develop their ambitions in the Mainland.
Deacons had opened its first office in China in 1986, making the firm one of the first foreign law firms to gain a presence in the PRC. This was just one aspect of the firm's pioneering international growth strategy. When Deacons' clients' needs and interests cross borders, Deacons' service follows. Deacons' Hong Kong office is now the centre of a regional network that has steadily grown to include Australia, Indonesia, the People's Republic of China, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam.
In every country were Deacons now has an office, the firm's presence bears testament both to the success and prosperity of its clients and the long-term potential of the country itself. Despite the economic challenges that the region has faced, Deacons' presence remains strong and vital as the firm helps to shape the future of Asia, our home.
Since 1985, Deacons Hong Kong has maintained offices in Alexandra House, progressively taking more floor space to accommodate our expanding team of lawyers. Now with more than 500 people in Hong Kong, Deacons has become a powerful force in today's legal market - a full service business law firm with a proven track record in many disciplines. And yet the firm continues to grow, nurturing the legal talent of tomorrow to ensure that clients in future years can always rely on Deacons.
At a time when many hold themselves out as being experts on Hong Kong and Asia, the facts speak for themselves. We have our roots in Hong Kong, from where we have grown and prospered in Asia. We have a history that has shaped us into the thriving and successful firm we are today. It is a privileged heritage. It is an identity that we are proud to call our own.
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