Asia Hiring Trends
Cypress has good news to report: The Year of the Tiger may have started out with a yawn, but it certainly is nearing the end with a roar and a sharp increase in both associate and partner opportunities in the last two quarters of 2010. Many firms have remained committed in terms of hiring in the region and have been investing resources into their foreign offices and hiring or promoting partners and associates. That said, firms are still well positioned to be highly selective in terms of language skills, practice background and academics and hiring standards still remain high for both expats and locals throughout Asia.
It’s been a stronger market than anticipated and Cypress has placed over 30 attorneys in just the last few months and our candidates have recently interviewed with law firms such as Simpson Thacher, Sullivan & Cromwell, Davis Polk, White & Case, Debevoise, Shearman & Sterling, Ropes & Gray, Weil Gotshal, Paul Weiss, Bryan Cave, and Squire Sanders as well as Goldman Sachs and an RmB fund. Our recent placements include:
M&A Associate, Sullivan & Cromwell, Hong Kong
Capital Markets Associate, Simpson Thacher, Tokyo
Investment Funds Counsel, O’Melveny Myers, Beijing
Corporate M&A Associate, Latham & Watkins, Beijing
PE Associate, Ropes & Gray, Hong Kong
Funds Counsel, Sidley, Hong Kong
Corporate Associate, Baker & McKenzie, Tokyo
Corporate Legal Consultant, Orrick, Beijing
For information on recent trends in partner placement, please click here.
As a general rule for most of 2010, the urgent needs are for US educated corporate M&A, FDI and/or capital markets attorneys who are originally from the PRC/HK and have been working at large, top-tier international law firms for the past few years. Biglaw firms in China and Japan are also very interested in bilingual expats with M&A, PE, FDI and/or capital markets experience from a top tier US or UK law firm and with strong academic pedigrees and Mandarin or Japanese fluency. In terms of location trends, HK remains the hub for capital markets work but we are seeing more firms hire capital markets associates and partners onshore where expenses are less and PRC clients prefer to be serviced. Shearman just brought over a capital markets partner from Simpson’s Hong Kong office and we are working with several firms that have recently asked us to help them locate capital markets (US and/or HK listings) attorneys for their Beijing offices. Orrick is actively trying to build a US and HK capital markets practice in Beijing that will work closely with their current Hong Kong capital markets team.
In Hong Kong, assets under management in the funds industry are almost back to pre-2008 market crash levels and the models of distribution and regulatory scheme are changing and firms are responding in kind. As a result, we have seen a significant increase in funds opportunities in Hong Kong from the junior associate to partner level. Shearman recently asked us to locate a US qualified funds lawyer with both hedge fund and PE fund formation experience focusing on offshore fund formation as well as RMB funds. Several firms have retained us to locate senior funds associates and/or partners with on the ground experience and relationships with local and/or foreign funds. As the market continues to expand, several US firms are entering the funds space and even US and UK firms with an established funds practice are looking to broaden their capabilities across industries.
With the increase in partners relocating to China bringing with them strong legal technical skills covering a widening selection of practice areas, the need for bilingual associates has become paramount. More and more of these partners are relying on bilingual associates to help with client interaction, documentation, due diligence and business development so native language capabilities are highly sought after these days. In Japan, firms are far less likely to require native fluency and typically expect a lower level of fluency. In fact, one of our candidates just received an offer from Morrison & Foerster in Tokyo and she doesn’t speak a word of Japanese. That said, she has strong ties to the country and plans on remaining for at least 5 years. We have also seen an increasing need for transactional attorneys with Korean language capabilities in Hong Kong and Hindi-speaking private equity, capital markets and finance attorneys in Singapore as firms prepare for the India and South Korea markets to open up to international firms.
There has been an increasing need for local attorneys in China as well. With the explosion of HK IPOs this year, we have encountered a particularly high demand for associates with Hong Kong qualifications, capital markets experience and native Chinese language skills. Clients of US law firms are also requesting HK legal services generally and they must maintain a 50% ratio of HK and foreign qualified attorneys per a directive by the HK Law Society. While many foreign attorneys have taken the HK qualification exam this past year, US firms are still looking to hire HK qualified attorneys with US or UK law firm experience. UK law firms have less of a demand as they have been practicing in this space for decades.
To turn a profit in China, firms can’t solely rely on US business interests investing or buying in China. Firms are starting to see more outbound investment by Chinese companies and inter-Asia transactions. With the growing amount of outbound investment, we have also encountered a corresponding increase in Shanghai and Beijing for PRC nationals with a US JD and biglaw M&A, PE, FDI and/or capital markets experience in China. Moreover, any local qualifications definitely bolster an attorney’s credentials for outbound work.
More offices opened in 2010 than any other year and this accounts for a portion of the opportunities presented by the market this year. New offices tend to transfer attorneys to Asia from less busy offices and thus prefer new hires to have on the ground experience and local language capabilities to compensate for the lack of such skills by their transferred colleagues who may or may not be enthusiastic about being in Asia and may likely repatriate with a year or two. Newer offices do tend to offer strong base compensation and expat packages to compete for candidates and can sometimes offer more hands on experience than well established offices in the region. In the last few months, Cypress has been consulting with and has been retained by four firms to assist with the opening of a new onshore office. Two of these firms are looking for PRC nationals with M&A and/or capital markets experience at a top US or UK firm and a US JD, one for an M&A or capital markets partner with in the ground experience and another for a bilingual funds attorney.
More recently, we have seen several firms elevate attorneys from senior associate/counsel to partner to attract the most attractive candidates. This year we saw a senior associate move from Cleary to Orrick as a partner and a Counsel level attorney at OMM move to Bird & Bird as a partner. We have recently been asked by a top west coast firm to locate senior associates interested in partnership who are currently practicing at a top Wall Street firms such as Skadden and Davis Polk where partnership can be difficult. They are willing to elevate an outstanding senior associate/counsel to partner immediately upon hiring, something seldom done in the past. We suspect this will become an increasing trend as more and more firms are competing for a small pool of experienced bilingual corporate attorneys with top international law firm experience.
Expat packages, especially in more mature legal markets like Tokyo and Hong Kong, are still comparatively strong and firms are willing to negotiate more than ever. Historically, law firms in Asia have been reluctant to release salary and benefits information. Law firms frequently approach Cypress to provide information and conduct market research as we are uniquely positioned to access information given our longstanding relationships and the sheer number of offer letters that we receive for our candidates. This secrecy has risen to an all time high as firms try to gain a competitive advantage in this challenging economic environment. When comprising an offer, law firms consider several factors such as cost of living, hardship associated with living in particular locations, familial status, competition/supply of appropriate candidates with a particular skill set, the firm’s interest level in a candidate, profitability of the office, the firm’s ability to attract and retain top talent, etc.
Our candidates continue to receive competitive remuneration packages, especially the most marketable candidates—partners with sustainable books of business over $2.5 million and on-the-ground experience, and bilingual associates with outstanding academic pedigrees and capital markets and/or M&A experience at biglaw firms. However, we have certainly seen more inconsistencies than ever between firms within a given city and even within some firms’ own offices. So far in 2010, our candidates received over a hundred offers, many of which were heavily negotiated as firms tend to make lower initial offers leaving room for the addition of certain perks or an increase in allowances. At the beginning of this year, offers and interview schedules were being protracted given the hesitation by firms (especially head offices in the US and UK) due to the economic downturn. In the last two quarters, formal offers have not only increased in number but are actually happening faster than ever as offices try to meet the growing demand of their clients as inbound and outbound investment activity increases throughout Asia. As the market recovered this year, most of the US and UK law firms sought candidates with similar profiles, which forced salaries and expat benefits to stabilize over the year as firms compete over a select group of candidates. As previously mentioned, some firms, especially newer firms to the market, have even intentionally set their packages higher to lure attorneys from their more established competitors.
While it’s still a buyer’s market, financial markers indicate a further increase in market activity and even more job opportunities in the Year of the Rabbit. The real challenge for any candidate in today’s market is determining exactly where the real opportunities exist. It is important to work with an experienced, responsive and honest staffing agent, especially as the market becomes flooded with recruiters trying to break into these unique and complex legal markets given the downturn in the US economy. Work exclusively with an expert–Cypress is the oldest US-based recruiting firm focusing solely on the Asian markets and we have built unparalleled relationships throughout the region. Unlike other large U.S. based recruiting firms with one recruiter assigned to the Asian region, the entire Cypress team focuses exclusively on the Asian legal markets and consists of research associates, marketing and H.R. specialists and ex-practicing attorneys from top-tier law firms. Cypress has the staff and resources to accommodate associates and partners looking for a wide variety of opportunities and firms. If you are interested in finding out how the market looks for you, please let us know by emailing us at email@example.com or calling 212.979.5900.
This article first appeared on Cypress Recruiting Group’s Asia Legal Blog
Dawn P. Robertson, Esq. is the managing partner of Cypress Recruiting Group. She graduated from Harvard Law School in 1997 and the University of Pennsylvania summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa. After law school, Ms. Robertson lived abroad and traveled extensively throughout Asia. Ms. Robertson was a corporate associate at both Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver and Jacobson and later, Patterson, Belknap, Webb & Tyler. Ms. Robertson works primarily out of our New York, Hong Kong and Tokyo offices.
In 2001, Ms. Robertson saw a need for a legal recruiting firm to service the growing needs of both expats and foreign qualified attorneys hoping to practice in Asia. Given the nature of these often confusing and complex emerging markets, Ms. Robertson wanted to provide reliable and up-to-date cultural, legal and market information to the growing number of attorneys entering these markets. Ms. Robertson envisioned a solution from an entirely fresh perspective and launched Cypress Recruiting to guide and consult attorneys rather than focus on just filling particular job opportunities. Ms. Robertson has watched the markets mature over the years and is known for her expertise and the unique, professional and honest approach that she brings to the legal recruiting industry.