Employers in high pursuit of corporate lawyers this year

Olga Yung, Director, and Carolyn Woo, Manager Michael Page Legal in Hong Kong

While 2013 was not the most active year in terms of recruitment activity for legal professionals, hiring remained stable. Currently, of all the areas and skill sets within the legal sector, there is a clear trend of corporate lawyers continuing to be in the highest in demand.

What is different from previous years however is employers are no longer seeking talent who purely specialise in initial public offerings (“IPOs”). Instead, the demand for corporate lawyers is focused on those with strong experience in mergers and acquisitions (M&A) and cross border transactions. This is particularly the case within private practices, but is also noticeable across in-house corporate companies where these professionals are required as these businesses strengthen M&A transactions in an effort to expand within the region and increase market share.

In light of the demand for legal talent, employers are improving the retention of employees to avoid loosing top talent and while new headcount approvals in 2014 remain conservative.

Over the next 12 months, hiring for legal talent is expected to be stronger compared to recruitment activity in 2013. It is not surprising that the demand for M&A and corporate finance lawyers will continue to be steady across in-house corporate companies and law firms. While the majority of corporate organisations focused on growing and expanding through M&A transactions in 2013, there is likely to be more companies maintaining an aggressive approach to getting listed in the market in 2014.

In particular, the demand for legal talent across the private practice, in-house and financial services areas is positive as companies in these sectors continue to experience a good level of business activity in 2014.

Private practice

Within international and local law firms in Hong Kong in 2013, there has been a series of lateral partner moves largely in the areas of corporate M&A and corporate finance. The areas that will experience the most hiring activity will continue to be M&A, private equity (“PE”) and IPO, where employers would be most interested in candidates with two to four years post-qualified experience (“PQE”).

Despite the fact that lawyers are in demand across these areas and employers are competing to secure this talent, leading international law firms will continue to take their time and be selective with the recruitment of these individuals as many view personality and cultural fit as an extremely important factor in making hiring decisions, in addition to addressing basic criteria such as the deal lists, law firms, training and law schools the jobseeker has been exposed to.

From a candidate perspective, most will not only be motivated to accept a role based on the remuneration package, but also other factors such as the prospect for career progression, type of people that work within a firm and its culture and quality of deals. Other factors that professionals will consider when accepting a new role in a firm that may be less obvious to employers include how the role will help them to achieve their long terms goals and whether it will allow them to work equally and alongside all people within the firm.

In-house corporate organisations

The demand for in-house corporate lawyers has remained stable for the last 12 months and this is expected to continue in 2014. Companies that are listed on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange will often continue to access the capital markets and M&A transactions, as well as ongoing corporate compliance and other legal matters that will require knowledge of Hong Kong law and in particular, Hong Kong Listing Rules.

Within Hong Kong listed companies, there is a rising frequency for corporate lawyers to take on the functions of both legal and company secretary. With multinational companies growing and expanding across the Asia Pacific region, along with an increased focus on developing and establishing operations in China, there is also high demand for corporate lawyers who specialise in China M&A, cross border transactions, as well as both equity and debt transactions.

Financial services

Across financial services institutions, corporate lawyers continue to be in demand, particularly within insurance houses and Chinese/PRC banks where mergers and acquisitions are “bread-and-butter” work.

Among other financial institutions, such as investment banks, commercial/retail banks, fund houses and other boutique companies, there is an increase in hiring activity for banking and finance lawyers, focused on projects, financing, commercial banking or products. Funds and asset management is also an area within financial services that is experiencing increased business activity, and professionals will be in demand whether they specialise in retail funds or hedge funds. Additionally, a stable trend of demand for regulatory lawyers is expected to continue in 2014 and as a result, financial services is the one area where corporate lawyers are in less demand within the overall legal sector.

For more information on legal market trends in Hong Kong, visit the Michael Page News & Research Centre online at http://www.michaelpage.com.hk/ContentArticle/page/8150.html