Hong Kong Legal Market Update - 2013
Activity during Q2 of 2013 has been busy on all fronts.
Law firms have been busy bolstering their teams, at the mid and senior levels. Partners and associates are well sought after across most practice areas, particularly in corporate M&A, IPO (despite the widely publicised slow-down in the IPO market), banking and finance and litigation (arbitration, insolvency, financial services regulatory and employment). FCPA and competition lawyers were also in demand from the early part of 2013.
For partners, the hunger for high quality rain makers remains high. Of particular interest to many law firms are litigation partners (particularly with arbitration or financial services experience) and corporate M&A partners. In each case, portable business is required (most require significant portables, others, where junior partners could be considered, a material level would be desirable).
With the summer now having approached (despite the downpour of rain in recent weeks), there has been signs of some movement in the junior end of the market, with 2-3 year pqe litigation and corporate lawyers highly sought after and some NQ roles trickling in. At this level, where experience is inevitably light, law firms are looking at candidates who have trained with top tier international law firms, with excellent academics (2:1 or above, in some rare cases a minimum GPA 3.50 is required), and with a high fluency in written and spoken Mandarin.
Amongst US firms, lawyers with dual PRC and US admissions and 3-7 years PQE are highly sought after. An example would be to gain admission in the PRC Bar, study a JD in the US with a top college and pass the NY/California bar, with several years' experience working for a top US firm, and being as comfortable negotiating/networking in Chinese as you are in English.
Chinese languages plus Hong Kong qualification are predominantly required by law firms, however, in some small cases for specialist skill-sets, local/regional quality experience has sufficed.
We have witnessed more international law firms from the US, Europe and elsewhere setting up in Hong Kong which has increased the competition for legal talent as well as support. In order to secure and retain talent, US law firms have been notoriously paying the highest salaries to their associates.
Recruitment has been buoyant in the in-house arena as well. There has been some mid to senior movement through moving on or newly created positions opening up across multinationals, listcos as well as private companies. The industries who have hired include those in the FMCG, manufacturing and retail, professional services, F&B, financial services, IT/Telco, property development. Whilst we experienced demands for specific skill-sets in-house (for eg, property or litigation), general in-house, general commercial or wealth management types of experiences were also highly sought after from different industries.
Hiring activity of lawyers in Banks remains more cautious. Employers have been aiming to make the right hires rather than trying to gain a quick fix.
The strong demand in 2012 for good quality compliance staff has split over into 2013, particularly those with between 4-10 years experience. Whilst the demand was spread broadly in-house and mainly between banks and insurance companies, the demand from insurers has steadied somewhat whilst compliance in banking and finance remains strong. Of particular note is that the cross-over of say banking compliance into insurance seems to be a thing of the past as each sector is making stronger requirements for same industry experience. For example, corporate banks will favour candidates with strong corporate banking experience over retail.
The occasional senior head of compliance roles have appeared in certain areas, including insurance companies and asset management firms.
Demand for senior level company secretaries with team management experience is strong, particularly within the financial services sector and other in-house industries. On the other hand, demand for sub-4 years experienced cosecs is low. Companies are increasingly wanting to see profiles of company secretaries with Hong Kong listing rules experience, with both Chinese languages and strong English.
Over Q2, demand for experienced corporate paralegals in international law firms has increased, as has commercial paralegals for in-house roles. Chinese language skills and the ability to translate remain key requirements.
Experienced staff in HR, BD/marketing and legal secretarial are highly sought after, particularly in law firm and professional services environments.