Member Profile

Law Firm Celebrates 170 Years

Deacons, an independent home-grown Hong Kong law firm, celebrates its 170th anniversary this year. The firm has evolved with the city, thriving in good times and weathering bad times through plagues, wars and many commercial booms and busts.

“We are a Hong Kong partnership and our fortunes are firmly tied to Hong Kong,” said Senior Partner Lillian Chiang. “Following a strong growth trajectory over the past 20 years, the firm employs over 700 people today.”

Deacons traces its origins to 1851 when a barrister, William Thomas Bridges, established a practice in Hong Kong. Educated at Oxford, Bridges became Acting Attorney General three years after his arrival in Hong Kong. When he left the city 10 years later, Hong Kong’s commercial potential was undeniable. The rule of law was gaining pace, and, thanks to Bridges’ pioneering spirit, a robust and dynamic legal practice had been born.

In those days the distinction between barristers and solicitors was blurred. However, in 1864 the professions were separated, and the practice registered as a solicitors’ firm. Victor Deacon joined the firm, then known as Messrs Brereton and Wotton, in 1880 and was admitted as a partner in 1882, thus adding his own name. One of his nephews subsequently joined and in the intervening years the firm was known by various names until the “Deacons” name was established in 1906.

“Back in 1851, who could have imagined that Hong Kong would become one of the top financial centres of the world?” said Chiang.

“It has been an extraordinary journey, both for Hong Kong and for us as a firm. Deacons’ business has literally evolved with Hong Kong. As our clients’ needs have become increasingly diverse, there has been a constant need to adapt while being mindful of maintaining a strong culture of observing traditional values.”

Much like Hong Kong, Deacons grew steadily in the first decades of the 20th century. While the First World War made little impact on the territory, the Second World War was catastrophic. Luckily, a senior local member of staff was able to save the firm’s client and business records from destruction during the Japanese occupation. The preservation of these records, including documents dating back to the 19th century, enabled the firm to quickly resume operations in late 1945.

The records also cover many important commercial transactions in Hong Kong’s history, including the first ever registration (in 1874) of a trademark in Hong Kong. This was for a large European client for which the firm still acts.

In another example of the firm’s continuity and contribution to the Hong Kong business community, Deacons has been a member of the HKGCC since 1904. This is a testament to the firm’s decades-long commitment to HKGCC as a recognised industry association. The Chamber’s dedication to giving back to its community by offering its members valuable networking opportunities is a principle that the firm also shares. It is the same belief that has allowed Deacons to stay connected with the thriving business ecosystem over the years.

One of the ways the firm has adapted over the years has been in response to the growth of China. Deacons opened its first office in Beijing back in 1986. In 1994, it received a licence from the Ministry of Justice to operate its first representative office in Guangzhou and in 1999, a Deacons representative office was opened in Shanghai, followed by the opening of its Beijing representative office in 2002.

This year, 12 Deacons lawyers passed the first-ever 2021 Greater Bay Area (GBA) Legal Professional Examination, which took place in July. This presents significant opportunities for the firm to provide legal advice in the dynamic markets in the GBA.

The firm’s talent base has also evolved to match the changing needs of its clients. Taylor Hui, Partner in the Financial Services Group, explained that the firm has had a long tradition of combining international and Hong Kong talent.

“Over the years, a combination of local and expatriate lawyers who have been long-term Hong Kong residents has given the firm very strong local roots,” Hui said.

“With the rise of China’s economy in recent decades, the balance has shifted, including with an increased focus on recruitment of Mainland Chinese lawyers to better serve Chinese clients, both in Hong Kong and the Mainland.”

The business today is a full-service firm with practices ranging from real estate, intellectual property and litigation to corporate finance and financial services. The growing economy in Mainland China over the past 20 years has enabled Deacons to build very large equity and debt capital markets as well as investment funds practices.

“Recent developments have included forming collaborative sector groups in art law, education, fintech, life sciences and healthcare, private wealth, financial institutions and hospitality,” Hui added, “which are backed by our strong property, litigation and intellectual property practices”

Sabrina Fung, Partner in the firm’s Corporate Finance Group, explained that Deacons had long been committed to diversity and inclusion.

“Nearly 50% of our partners and key leaders are women and we firmly believe that a cultural embrace of diversity is central to creating equal opportunities in our workplace,” she said. “While that is a good thing in itself, it also really benefits our business.”

As a stalwart local business, it is perhaps no surprise that Deacons has also encouraged close involvement with the local community for many years. On the CSR front, it has been a staunch supporter of “Operation Santa Claus,” and also has a long-term commitment to many local charities, including the Hong Chi Association, ImpactHK, Hong Kong Red Cross and the Senior Citizen Home Safety Association.



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