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Legal in-house positions to create new headcount in 2018
Thriving in Hong Kong’s dynamic business takes a high-level of expertise and efficiency. The legal profession forms the core of every organisation and we anticipate an encouraging number of both of newly created and replacement headcount. This is applicable across lawyers for private practice and in-house as well as legal support positions. Here are some of the legal recruitment industry’s key drivers for 2018.
More opportunities for in-house legal counsels
The legal function has always been crucial to any business, and many companies in the region previously lacking an in-house team have started to build one over the past year. In-house legal counsels provide valuable legal advice, often derived from the fact that they have an insider’s perspective on the business and have a vested interest in the good standing of their company. In-house counsels can also more effectively manage relationships with external lawyers due to a common understanding of business and industry practices.
Lawyers entering an in-house role now have the opportunity to set up the legal function in companies who see value in building a legal team. Coming into a brand new team means the candidate has a chance to build their own profile, visibility and working style without concerns of legacy problems. There is also the possibility that the team will be expanded in the future as the company becomes more invested in growing their legal resources.
Chinese solicitors are in high demand
The Greater China and Hong Kong legal sectors have seen a rebound from the slow-down driven by the IPO and FDI market in 2015 and 2016. Their approach to their legal hiring and strategy have gotten increasingly local or regional.
Hong Kong companies, Red Circle Firms, Chinese fund houses and state-owned enterprises are more aggressive and competitive in their hiring strategies, often showing a strong preference towards solicitors who are proficient in spoken and written Mandarin. We expect this trend to remain constant in the coming years.
It may also be worth monitoring how the Hong Kong Law Society responds to the demand for Chinese solicitors – their policy with regards to the barriers of entry of legal professionals might affect this trend in the future.
Work-life balance is possible for lawyers
As with most of the workforce, consideration and emphasis on work-life balance have always been appreciated by those working in the legal industry. It is worth noting that some of the more progressive companies have started to introduce flexible work arrangements, prompting more traditional companies with strict policies to consider the possibility of overhauling their HR practices.
This is especially beneficial for professionals who are highly motivated and achieving individuals at the workplace, though with family or other personal commitments. This positive change that we see in companies enhances their brand image and reinforces their commitment to attract and retain new talent in a candidate-driven market. We are seeing an increasing number of legal professionals who are concerned of their ability to achieve work-life balance and are often drawn to companies who can enable them to do so.
Legal professionals who leave private practice to join in-house teams often do so not just for better working hours, but also to gain clarity on their career development path and options. To address this need, more law firms are investing in learning and development programs where the management team help employees to see the prospects of working in their company long-term.
UK law firms have been among the first to realise the importance of such programs, and we see more Hong Kong and international firms adopt similar policies.
The private practice route for non fee-earners is becoming more popular and we expect this to continue in the next 12 months. With the Hong Kong legal market growing and firms localising their expertise, we have seen a significant number of openings in the knowledge management and the compliance space. Some law firms have even created legal teams to operate independently from their overseas headquarters to cover Asian markets.
Looking into the future
We are optimistic about the level of movement among legal professionals as companies have indicated strong interest in expanding their legal capabilities in 2018. Though there are subtle waves of concern over Brexit and global geopolitics, the market’s confidence levels are the highest in the past two years. Many trends observed over the past year are also expected to be sustained.
We are already seeing the effects of the introduction of a concessionary tax regime promoting the Hong Kong aircraft leasing industry with a number of openings in both the in-house and private practice space.
The expansion of the FinTech industry has also cultivated strong hiring activity for regulatory lawyers. This is an interesting lead to thinking further about other areas including cashless payment systems, cybersecurity and white-collar violations. The advances of technology have created more legal requirements which are currently in demand and will continue to be an area of growth. Legal professionals skilled in telecommunication, media and technology (TMT) as well as data privacy will see more job opportunities in their area of expertise across 2018.
This article first appeared in January 2018 on Hong Kong Lawyer.