Second Quarter 2022: Hong Kong Legal Jobs Market Update

by Nikki in Articles

DatePosted on June 30, 2022 at 09:00 AM
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How did the Hong Kong legal and legal support market perform in the second quarter of this year?

If you read much of the mainstream media, the picture we see around us in the world is certainly bleak. Just in the past three months alone we have seen routs in global financial and crypto markets, creeping interest rates to curb rising inflation, and the war in Ukraine continues be fought ferociously. In financial industry parlance, the bears are out in full force. 

Closer to home, it’s been a tough first half of the year for everyone as the Special Administrative Region has had to cope with the fifth wave of restrictions dominated by the omicron variant of the coronavirus, resulting in a marked increase in high quality and experienced lawyers, other professionals, and their families leaving Hong Kong.

At the halfway stage of the year, the number of Hong Kong IPOs on the main board of HKSE has halved and the amounts raised have dropped by a staggering 92.5% (source: Refinitiv) from the year before. Notwithstanding a poor first half showing, the forecast for the second half of 2022 is optimistic with several mega IPOs expected to go ahead including FWD, JD Technology, more secondary listings of NY-listed PRC companies, and just recently GogoX went live with their listing. There does seem to be some optimistic sentiment going into the second half of the year and well into 2023 with hopes of a gradual lifting of the pandemic restrictions gaining momentum and with both higher numbers of people being vaccinated and more effective and potent vaccines coming onto the market. 

Depending on which corporate team of a law firm you’re speaking to, the past 6-8 months have either been a famine or feast, with a two-tiered IPO market in legal services showing the stark differences in fortune between the top tier law firms working on the mega-IPOs, and everyone outside having to turn their attentions to ongoing listing rules compliance and general corporate advisory to keep their utilisation-levels up. 

But overall, recruitment activity levels have remained buoyant across the legal industry over the past three months in Hong Kong, partly contributed by the continued outflow of quality workers as well as some large law firms and corporate businesses looking to invest for longer term expansion in the region.

In this past quarter we have sadly seen the end of UK law firm Addleshaw Goddard's Hong Kong adventure with the announcement of the closure of their Hong Kong office this Autumn. They have long been a powerhouse in the UK legal industry and we hope they will return to these shores again one day, stronger and wiser from this experience. 

Looking ahead, the local Hong Kong news in the third quarter will be dominated by the 25th anniversary of the handover of Hong Kong to China, the inauguration of Mr. John Lee as the SARs new Chief Executive, and later, the anticipated election for a third term at China's President, Xi Jingping.

In relation to John Lee, media observers will look to his first 100 days that will shape the economy, the forecasts for recruitment across all industries and generally people’s moods in their outlook on life in Hong Kong. And we will certainly see what changes lie in store with the restrictions that Hong Kong has faced for quite some time. 

Hopefully we will have more on these in our next quarterly update!

Private Practice Market

Partners

The second quarter of 2022 has been bustling with partner recruitment activity in Hong Kong, partly as a result of the increasing numbers of partners leaving Hong Kong but also with firms taking a more bullish stance to expansion in Hong Kong, China and the wider region. As always, there is a high expectation of laterals with a strong client following.

The areas of partner and team demand we have seen the most include Corporate M&A/PE (in both Hong Kong and Singapore), disputes resolution, shipping litigators, TMT, arbitration, and asset finance. Given the significant drop in IPO activity in the low-mid cap market and the stock markets across the world taking a tumble, there has been a corresponding and marked fall in demand in this space of late. We anticipate this going well into the third quarter.

At the top-tier end of the ECM market, however, the pace of business continues to be brisk as big-ticket IPOs are anticipated in the second half of 2022, including FWD and GogoX, amongst others.

Associates (Qualified Lawyers)

During the second quarter there has been a rising demand for Funds Associates across all levels, and mid to senior-level Associates in areas such as Corporate M&A, energy & infrastructure, financial regulation, and debt capital markets. With the growth of the technology industry in Hong Kong, greater China, and Singapore in recent years, demand for lawyers with data compliance and data protection experience remains strong.

Business Support Roles

Recently, the market has seen an increased investment among larger law firms for IT specialists, partly because of the expansion of this function in the region, as well as increasing numbers of moves by professionals to the UK and Singapore frustrated by the continued travel restrictions caused by the COVID-19 endemic. We have also noticed some firms moving to a more cross-regional function for their business services staff, which also has the benefits to employees who will gain regional experience in their firm and in some cases, without the need to move. 

This summer, we have seen more law firms start to look for junior paralegals. Demand for junior level BD and marketing and HR professionals has remained buoyant throughout the quarter.

As with previous recent quarters, demand for lateral senior level business services has been flat. That's not to say there hasn't been movement - but the backfills we have seen have been achieved, by and large, with internal promotions across the region.

If you are a qualified lawyer or business support professional in a law firm seeking a move, please contact us on and we will put you in touch with a team member: enquiry@staranise.com.hk

Credits: Leung Cho Pan

In-house Legal Market

The in-house legal jobs market has been buoyant in the second quarter of 2022 resulting in a sharp increase in the demand for 3-5 years’ PQE legal professionals for diverse companies within Hong Kong and Singapore. These mid-level candidates are required to provide additional support for companies’ growing business needs.

Whilst it may be true that some lawyers have decided to relocate from Hong Kong, there still remains a healthy pool of lawyers wishing to stay in Hong Kong for personal and career reasons.

The industries hiring in-house lawyers have been diverse, ranging from regulatory bodies, conglomerates to shipping and logistics companies, crypto firms as well as within financial institutions and private equity firms.

In this quarter, our senior in-house placements have been made with:

  • regulatory bodies
  • conglomerates
  • professional services firms
  • multinational technology and retail companies

We anticipate that hiring needs will continue to increase over the course of the next quarter and for the remainder of the year and are already being requested to keep an eye out for suitable talent for 2023. 

If you're an HR professional or hiring manager with an in-house permanent vacancy, please email us: office@staranise.com.hk and a consultant will be in touch. 

If you're in HR and have a need to second a qualified lawyer or administrative professional to your company, please message us at: office@yuzu.com.hk and a consultant will be in touch.

 

#legaljobs #market #HongKong

About the Author

Nikki

Nikki is Star Anise's resident writer and curator of content on all things careers, coaching and recruitment related at the Star Anise Knowledge Hub. 

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