2019 thus far has been dominated by geopolitical events, speculations and a constant news cycle regarding trade policies and market trends. Most recently, the ongoing Hong Kong political situation has come to play an important role and we can’t yet fully predict what the effects will be.
What we definitely noted is that the perception from abroad is much worse than the actual situation in Hong Kong: while Hong Kong as well as mainland Chinese clients are confident in a speedy recovery of the local market we’ve noticed that the situation, as represented by the international media, as created concerns for our overseas clients.
Despite all of the above, we’ve objectively identified the most relevant trends in the Hong Kong Private Practice recruitment landscape. These should give guidance and reassurance to many of us within the legal field who are wondering what the rest of 2019 will look like.
Hong Kong as a candidate-driven market
Hong Kong remains a candidate-driven market. Law firms are still aggressively competing to secure the best talents in the market in both fee-earning and business support roles. And this is evident in the M&A and IPO space, where despite the significant market downturn compared to last year, the battle for the best talents remains. In the current market, clients are simply more cautious and use a selective approach. We are seeing that hiring processes are perhaps a bit slower, but those headcounts are very much still there and quality capital markets and corporate lawyers with strong language skills are still in demand.
Technology and cybersecurity driving major trends in hiring
After a slow start this year, we have seen a steady flow of new openings and headcounts since April 2019. Something certainly new for Hong Kong is the significant wave of new openings in the cybersecurity and data privacy space.
This trend is being driven by the ever-evolving privacy and cybersecurity regulations and issues not only in Hong Kong but across APAC and globally. It has caused a few firms to explore the possibility of setting up specialised teams in Hong Kong, as well as growing and scaling existing teams.
The lack of homegown talent and the fact that these roles often do not require Chinese language skills often brings these searches overseas.
Cybersecurity is a concern for law firms themselves, given the amount of sensitive data they handle. This is driving a major trend in hiring in the IT space, especially when adopting cloud-based practice management software.
This has also been the need behind newly created IT headcounts who can provide internal consultation in strengthening the cybersecurity of international law firms – both in setting up the system and leading the execution. Most hires so far have been at mid-senior level, especially for consultancy roles. However, with a shortage of talent, candidates aren’t necessarily coming from other law firms. Instead, companies have to expand the search to include professionals from other industries.
Agility and flexibility the key to retention
The implementation of cloud systems has had another significant consequence on the recruitment market: it allows for a significant amount of legal work to be carried out in agile and flexible working environments.
This is a key topic in the industry, particularly after the launch in June 2019 of a report from the Women in Law Hong Kong (WILHK) titled “Making the case for flexible and agile working in Hong Kong’s legal industry”. The report highlights who the virtuous players in this industry are and what is holding Hong Kong back from alternative working models.
In our opinion, law firms need to be up-to-speed with these trends in flexible and agile working conditions in order to retain top talents and compete with alternative legal services providers. Top professionals in the field are looking for better work-life integration and companies must adapt to client needs.
We will keep a close watch on how technology and cybersecurity continue to impact the Hong Kong legal market this year, along with keeping an eye out for new trends that will affect hiring, employee engagement and the overall job market throughout the rest of the year.
If you would like to discuss the above in more detail, please contact Associate Director, Marta Verderosa, at [email protected]