Third Quarter 2022: Hong Kong Legal Jobs Market Update
The Hong Kong legal jobs market quarterly review (Autumn edition) 2022
Welcome to our Autumn edition of trends in the Hong Kong legal market! For many of our readers, this summer has seen their first trip outside of Hong Kong in two or even three years. And for the first time in quite some time, this summer has seen the seasonal slowdown in recruitment activity, “like how it used to” at this time of year.
Now that the Autumn season is well and truly upon us, recruitment activities have ramped up again. So, have a nice cup of your favourite beverage at the ready as we give you the low-down on the last quarter’s recruiting trends in Hong Kong.
In-House Junior to Mid-Level Legal Counsel, Company Secretaries, and Paralegals
The junior to mid-level in-house lawyer/company secretaries and paralegal market is currently extremely active in the traditional industries (for both Hong Kong and international companies) as they expand their legal and compliance departments.
On the start-up front, technology and cryptocurrency startups have also been actively bolstering their number of legal and compliance teams! A few potential reasons for this may be down to the corporations aiming to cut costs on external legal spending, the regulatory landscape, and the post-pandemic uncertainties.
In-House Senior Lawyers
Despite the departure of some lawyers from Hong Kong, this did not create a sharp increase in the availability of senior legal roles since some of the roles moved with them overseas or they groomed someone to take positions from within or through internal transfer.
During this quarter, we have been working on senior legal roles where a specific technical skill set has been required. The roles most in-demand have been for lawyers with any of the following practice areas:
- banking and finance
- employment law
- listing rules compliance
- technology including cryptocurrency
The peak summer months has seen a strong demand for mid-to-senior level accounting and finance professionals in law firms, with particular interest in candidates with experience in taxation reporting and preparing profit returns. Most of the roles at hand have shown a greater interest in accounting candidates with all round generalist, rather than specialist, knowledge, and those with more hands-on abilities. Candidates with between 6-10 years’ relevant work experience have been popular.
Demand for junior-to-mid level HR professionals has remained quite constant through the summer months, as have junior legal secretaries in comparison to the preceding second quarter. Whilst interest in business development and marketing (BD&M) professionals has remained steady, the interest among those professionals had cooled off somewhat as travel and longer term career plans have taken precedence over the season. We anticipate the market for BD&M professionals to remain strong through to the end of the year as a significant number of people in this sector have left the SARs since early 2021.
With international law firms, demand has largely been driven by top tier US, Magic Circle and mid-tier international law firms. Among this grouping, we have seen demand for junior to mid-level associates in structured finance and derivatives, corporate M&A and private equity, banking and finance, funds and some DCM roles. There has also been interest in hiring senior level associates in employment, TMT, projects, banking and finance, corporate finance and commercial transactions. Among local law firms, there has been continued demand for junior to mid-level lawyers focusing on commercial litigation and general corporate (with listing rules experience).
In preparation of anticipated (or hoped for?) explosions in M&A and private equity activities next year, several firms have shown a strong interest in rainmaking partners in this space. Technology, fintech, arbitration and commercial litigation have also ranked highly in interest among some acquisitive firms. What has marked out the partner market is the interest among firms to hire specialists in areas they lack or feel have great growth potential rather than adding for the sake of it or to backfill.
Amongst some of the smaller offices of international firms and mid-tier firms, we have seen partners quietly departing Hong Kong for their home jurisdictions or moving to a new country altogether and it’s clear they have been replaced.
Caution is the name of the game as a global recession looms, Europe is entering into an energy crisis, a plummeting pound, and inflation on all areas of consumer goods, with uncertainty in the economy exacerbated by the conflict in Ukraine.
Notwithstanding the various issues arising in Europe, we have received interest from overseas virtual law firms looking to hire senior level candidates with modest books of business (relative to the revenue generation pressures of most traditional law firms) where a savvy entrepreneurial lawyer with a relative high risk appetite and a book of at least US$500,000 can earn up to 80% of their takings.
Trades-off with working at a virtual law firm include a much more sparse support system in administration and marketing, no swanky office space in Central or other key business centres. But the benefits include far greater flexibility on when and where they work. Fancy a three month holiday before you resume advising on your next complex contract negotiation? Then these firms could be for you.
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.
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