A bevy of reporters crowded Stephen Zhang, an apprentice lawyer from Macao, after learning he was one of 60 residents in the special administrative region that have passed the National Bar Examination, one of the licensing exams with the lowest passing rate in China.
"Because Stephen completed a master's degree in law at National Taiwan University, and is a Macao native who was admitted to the bar, we offered him an internship at our firm," said Lei Wun Kong, a senior partner of ZLF.
ZLF is the first joint venture company comprised of law firms from the Chinese mainland and the special administrative regions of Hong Kong and Macao.
Established in 2016, the mega-firm is based in Hengqin, the biggest island in Zhuhai, Guangdong province. Next to Macao, the island has become a beachhead for those who want a piece of the pie in China's new economic hub in the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area.
The GBA is an ambitious regional integration project striving for closer collaboration between 11 cities of the Pearl River Delta. Hengqin, as a New Area supported by the central government, has made concrete steps to bind the area together with the special administrative regions.
In spite of the differences in legal systems, ZLF is expecting to overcome the obstacle by hiring more "polyglot" law experts from different backgrounds.
According to Lei, 28 lawyers from Hong Kong and Macao registered in the law office, and their expertise covers all practices of legal services involving Hong Kong and Macau.
"And as cooperation between the cities in the GBA continues to grow, we are looking for more young lawyers like Stephen, who has a diverse background and is familiar with the legal system, both in the mainland and special administrative regions," Lei said.
A story like Stephen's, coming to work in the mainland because of increased opportunities, is fairly typical, but Hengqin did introduce practical measures to deal with concerns over cross-border employment.
To bridge the tax differential, in 2013 Hengqin implemented a policy subsidizing income tax for employees from Hong Kong and Macao who are working in the new area.
So far, more than 1.5 billion yuan ($23 million) has been earmarked to make sure employees can enjoy the same taxation rate as the special administrative regions.
Later in 2019, other GBA cities in Guangdong province introduced similar regulations to balance the taxation rate for Hong Kong and Macao professionals working in the cities until 2023.
Apart from the tax incentives, in 2019 the island passed the country's first local regulation allowing professional enterprises and professionals in the field of construction engineering from Hong Kong and Macao to provide direct services.
Within a year, 142 professionals and 33 enterprises from Hong Kong and Macao have registered and started their businesses in Hengqin.
At a reporter's question on whether he is willing to live in Hengqin, Stephan said it could be a reality, as housing prices are relatively low in Zhuhai, and he knew a few residents of Macao had bought houses on the island.
According to information provided by the local government, by the end of 2020, Macao residents purchased over 8,000 properties in Hengqin. More than 50,000 Macao residents enjoyed medical services there in the past five years.
"More appropriate arrangements on working and living in Hengqin mean more opportunities to attract people from Hong Kong and Macao. We are simply providing more options for them," said Liu Xinyu, an official in Hengqin New Area.