Hong Kong enacts new rules permitting outcome related fee structures
22 November 2022
22 November 2022
Singapore enacted amendments to its Legal Profession Act earlier this year, allowing lawyers and clients to enter into conditional fee agreements (CFAs) for certain types of contentious matters, including in arbitration proceedings (see our update here). Hong Kong has now followed, with amendments to its Arbitration Ordinance and a new set of Arbitration (Outcome Related Fee Structures for Arbitration) Rules to come into operation on 16 December 2022, allowing the use of various outcome-related fee structures (ORFS) in arbitration proceedings. While confined to only arbitration and related proceedings, these legislative amendments arguably go further than those introduced in Singapore by permitting not only CFAs, but also other types of OFRS such as damages based agreements (DBAs) and hybrid damages based agreements (Hybrid DBAs).
The new rules are a welcome response to the demands of arbitration users, and help Hong Kong maintain its competitiveness as a global centre for international arbitration.
ORFS are alternative fee arrangements whereby the lawyer and their client agree that the lawyer's fee is conditional on the outcome of a contentious matter, and the lawyer receives a financial benefit if the proceedings are successful within the meaning of the agreement.
Until now, lawyers in Hong Kong were prohibited from charging fees related to the outcome of their work on contentious matters. The new amendments will lift this prohibition for arbitration and related proceedings, providing lawyers and their clients with greater flexibility to adopt the appropriate fee arrangements to suit their needs.
The new rules permit three types of ORFS, each of which is subject to certain conditions including as to maximum limits, as summarised below.
|ORFS Type||APPLICABLE conditions||maximum limits|
Conditional Fee Agreement (CFA)
An agreed success fee is charged if a successful outcome is achieved. If proceedings are unsuccessful, the lawyer receives no legal fees ("No-Win, No-Fee") or reduced legal fees ("No-Win, Low-Fee").
|Uplift element ≤100% of benchmark fee |
Damages Based Agreement (DBA)
No fees are charged during the course of the arbitration, and the lawyer receives a percentage of the financial benefit obtained by the client in the matter ("DBA payment").
|DBA payment ≤50% of financial benefit obtained by the client|
Hybrid Damages Based Agreement (Hybrid DBA)
Some fees are charged during the course of the arbitration (usually at a discount), and lawyer is paid an additional DBA payment in the event the client obtains a financial benefit.
The hybrid DBA must:
Capped fees payable in the event that no financial benefit is obtained ≤50% of irrecoverable costs
DBA payment ≤50% of financial benefit obtained by the client (but lawyer may elect to retain capped fees if they are higher)
The rules also require all ORFS agreements, regardless of the type of structure involved, to:
The new rules apply to arbitration proceedings, as well as related court or mediation proceedings. Clients can benefit from these more flexible fee arrangements, both in respect of arbitrations seated in Hong Kong and by engaging Hong Kong practitioners in arbitrations seated elsewhere.
The new rules provide an additional funding option for clients, in addition to third party funding (see our Quick Guide here) which has been permitted in Hong Kong since February 2019. Besides benefiting clients who may otherwise be unable to fund arbitration for meritorious claims, they will also allow those with the funds to arbitrate to lay off some of the risk associated with costly arbitration and free up the funds for use elsewhere, thereby alleviating some of the costs pressures and cash-flow issues that may arise as a result of engaging in arbitration.