Job Watch: Hong Kong

Addleshaw Goddard, US leviathan Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan, and top Korean firm Kim & Chang are among the many international practices to have set up shop in Hong Kong over the past year. At first glance, the influx of firms suggests that business is booming in the region. However, according to recruiters, job seekers should still look before they leap into the Hong Kong market.

“New players entering Hong Kong in the past two years continue to be the most earnest in hiring, with the vision to build their name and practices locally,” says Olga Yung at Michael Page Hong Kong.

Those firms that have recently undergone mergers with international or local firms are also tentative, she says.

“There can often be a ‘surplus’ of lawyers with duplicated practices/talents when two firms merge,” adds Yung.

It doesn’t help that the IPO market in Hong Kong remains relatively stagnant. In fact, recruiters agree that job opportunities will remain relatively slight until this recovers – potentially in mid-2014.

In the meantime, jobs are available in a number of other disciplines. Regulatory and compliance, for example, is cited as being a particularly buzzing area at the moment. 

For Jonathan Smyth at DMJ Legal, “associates with experience in contentious dry and/or wet shipping/commodities work, funds, capital markets and straight corporate finance/M&A work” are also in high demand.

Ricky Mui at Robert Walters suggests that litigation and insurance expertise are particularly sought after, while Fred dos Santos at Jlegal also highlights the growth of construction work.

“These practice areas are becoming ever more interesting to firms in Hong Kong but also in Asia more widely,” says Mui.

While smaller firms such as Hill Dickinson have popped up in Hong Kong in recent years, the global mega-firms are doing the bulk of the hiring. US firms are recruiting with particular strength, while UK outfits including the magic circle tend to be picking up new lawyers as replacements rather than expansion hires.

The consensus among recruiters is that mid-levels, and three-to-six years PQE associates in particular, are a sweet spot in the Hong Kong market.

“Almost every law firm in Hong Kong wants a three-to-six PQE associate who is trilingual in English, Cantonese and Mandarin and able to hit the ground running,” notes Shilton Sharpe Quarry’s Felix Lee. ”If they’ve been educated in the UK or US and/or have spent time as an associate in either of those jurisdictions, all the better.”

In-house, however, there are still a number of junior roles being released. For those seeking an in-house position, recruiters advise looking to the retail, manufacturing and IT sectors. These businesses picked up throughout the course of 2012/13 while financial services and insurance remained fairly cautious throughout the year.