Hong Kong legal market update 2015 (Q1)

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DatePosted on March 10, 2015 at 03:33 PM
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The legal market has been abuzz with activity since we saw in the New Year 2015 which is great news for employers and job seekers!

Here’s a summary update of the areas we cover at Star Anise Legal:


Senior Lawyers/Heads of Legal/General Counsel

There are reportedly thousands of experienced in-house lawyers working in Hong Kong.  This number continues to grow year on year as businesses recognise the importance of hiring key legal professionals to ensure that:

  • their risk management/compliance is taken care of; and
  • their business transactions can be effective within the current legal and regulatory frameworks.  

Whilst some in-house legal functions are sole contributor/one man band type roles, there is an increasing trend to have small to mid size (and even in some cases, large) teams taking care of Asia-Pacific or Greater China and sometimes even Global jurisdictions.  Senior candidates should ideally aim to hone their people management skills if they wish to progress to General Counsel or Head of Legal status.

In-house also remains a hot career choice for mid level to senior lawyers who are not vying for partnership but would prefer to swap the billing and business development for a better work life balance.

Hot industries in the senior in-house market have most recently been in the property development industry, retail and manufacturing, technology and media, hospitality and construction industries and financial services.  

Hot practice areas for in-house have been M&A/PE, employment/litigation, construction, competition and IP law.

Compliance is another hot area for legal professionals, whether in corporations or financial services/banks.  As companies come increasingly under the spotlight of regulatory bodies globally and locally, they are under increased pressure to increase their internal compliance functions.

Paralegal and Junior to Mid Level Legal Counsel

The in-house market for paralegal and junior to mid level legal counsel remains very active. Many retail and luxury brands, FMCG’s as well as industrial companies are regularly hiring commercial paralegals with regional contractual experience. The same clients are also looking for qualified lawyers with corporate & commercial transaction and corporate governance experience. 
There is also a new trend that companies are opening up new IP manager roles for qualified and non-qualified legal professionals, especially on anti-counterfeit, enforcement and brand protection legal matters. For these roles, Mandarin language requirement is a must due to the extensive IP enforcement matters in the PRC. 

Company Secretaries

Junior company secretarial professionals with 1 to 5 years of experience are highly sought after by many private and listed companies. In the past, some employers prefer to hire those with existing in-house experience but due to the lack of quality candidates on the market, they have turned to those who have trained with sizable professional/corporate service providers and find they are equally capable of fulfilling requirements. Junior candidates should ideally aim for HKICS/ICSA membership as soon as possible if they wish to progress to managerial levels.  

On the move?Law Firms

Partners and Of Counsels

Q3 and Q4 of 2014 saw a steady rise in firms who were actively seeking partners, particularly in the areas of corporate, banking and finance, litigation and intellectual property.  At this level, there is an expectation that the partner will have a strong client base and a significant level of business.   There is also a preference for a team, for e.g., one partner with 2 associates so that they can ‘hit the ground running’.  There is also a question of whether the partner’s practice would be a strategic fit and would complement, rather than detract from their existing practices.  Simply having a successful practice is not enough. 

Demand for Consultants and Of Counsels has been quiet.  One factor determining this is that there are now increased expectations on lawyers at this level to have portable business.  After the last financial crisis of 2008, firms have been very cautious to have such a high outlay unless there is evidence that the incoming candidate can be self sufficient.  Notwithstanding, there has been some demand for Consultants/Of Counsels in banking and finance. 

Mid to Senior Level Associates

There remains a strong interest in senior M&A/PE associates (5-7 PQE) by many top ranking firms over the past 6 months following some associates going in-house which naturally creates a gap in the market. Language requirements have since relaxed and firms are looking to lawyers outside of Hong Kong to plug the gap. 

Banking and Finance is another hot area with a number of firms expanding their practices with new headcounts at all levels, from NQ – 8 PQE.

Several well established investment fund practices are seeking quality fund associates at mid to senior levels, with Chinese languages important to deal with the growing number of China-backed funds entering the Hong Kong market.  

We have also received a number of enquiries from international law firms seeking mid-level Intellectual Property & Technology, TMT and aviation lawyers. Chinese languages are required for IPT lawyers due to IP enforcement work and having to deal with Chinese regulators.  

Business Development & Marketing

This is the hottest area for law firm support staff at the moment. Many law firms are snapping up junior, mid and senior level coordinators and managers and are willing to pay top dollar for them. (e.g. $35,000 budget for 2-3 years of experience and $60,000 for 6-8 years+). Some of these roles are newly created roles, but most of them are still replacement positions. We should expect more vacant job openings in this sector as we approach Chinese New Year.

Finance & Accounting 

2014 saw a steady demand for finance professionals at various levels in law firms and generally within the professional services sector.  Common amongst the roles was a preference from employers that the candidate had already worked in their industry and was familiar with the business model and services that they would provide.   Law firms had a strong demand for junior billing coordinators, with some senior CFO and FM roles appearing throughout the year.  

Legal Secretarial

There has been a strong demand for legal secretaries especially with English and Chinese language typing skills. The main practice areas that require legal secretaries are mostly dispute resolution and corporate M&A and IPO teams.

Paralegal (Private Practice)

Whilst the demand for IPO paralegals has stabilised, there has been a strong demand for commercial litigation and shipping paralegals in some international firms.  

Financial Services/Banks


There seems to be no signs of demand slowing down in respect of hiring of compliance professionals as banks try to stay on top of ever changing local and international financial regulations relating to for eg, Anti-Money Laundering (AML), the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FACTA), Financial Crime Compliance (FCC), Counter-Terrorist Financing (CTF) sanctions and Anti-Bribery & Corruption (AB&C).