As global growth rates look sluggish in 2019 with the well-documented slowdown in growth brought about by the Sino-US trade war, leading executive search business Aquis Search has announced in its latest set of salary survey & guides published in January this year, that despite some of the challenges faced with an evolving business landscape, there is still job demand across the legal sector in some areas of Asia.
Global conditions mean that protectionism in the rest of the world could affect areas such as Singapore but Aquis Search, based in Hong Kong, Singapore, Beijing, Shanghai, Taipei and London has said that broadly speaking the professional services market can see pockets of demand. We’ve listed below some of the key issues that are affecting the Asia-Pacific region in 2019 and where demand may come from in the sector.
New Business Models Emerge in Hong Kong Private Practice
Hong Kong’s central policymakers may have revised their growth predictions for 2019 but from a private practice perspective law firms continue to experience growth in some areas, albeit with competition from slightly different businesses. From an employment market perspective demand is being driven by accountancy firms, who are taking the opportunity to diversify their client offering and step into the Hong Kong private practice market. This trend began in 2018 but is set to continue in 2019 and Aquis Search questions whether the traditional model of a law firm is changing.
Miriam Leung, Director at Aquis Search in Hong Kong, explained “Accountancy businesses have been able to leverage their enviable client bases to build relationships in the legal space. But despite this demand, the general feeling amongst employers that we speak to is that this diversification is just one of the challenges that private practice law firms face as they aim to evolve. Implementing new technologies like using AI or machine learning is another challenge but we speak to many employers who are already adopting these as part of their bid to offer more efficient and productive services.
In other areas of the market, the increase in demand for contract law services is becoming more prevalent and certainly we are seeing more law firms operating in China, bringing in the experience of senior Hong Kong lawyers to head up a Hong Kong division, for example.”
Demand for In-House Legal Professionals with knowledge of in Funds, Structured Products and ISDA proposals
Volatility often gives rise to opportunity and so certain market segments will take advantage of the poor economic conditions, but how will the downturn affect Hong Kong’s in-house legal market?
Aquis Search is predicting that individuals working in funds, structured products and ISDA proposals will be the areas where some limited growth may be seen in 2019, although it does acknowledge that demand is increasing in hybrid roles that combine both legal and compliance requirements. If you are an in-house lawyer that has versatility and can support both compliance and legal requirements of a business then you are a valuable commodity.
In Singapore the story is similar to that of Hong Kong and speaking of the in-house market in Singapore, Aquis Search Director Sophie Chen said “Lawyers who can demonstrate that they have the soft skills to work well within a team and also understand the wider business context of the legal work will be a sought after. At a senior level the emphasis is very much on being able to articulate your excellent strategic planning and exemplary communication skill in working with senior stakeholders”.
The Role of the Paralegal Evolves in Singapore
The latest Aquis Search Paralegal & Legal Secretary Salary Survey & Guide for Singapore shows that an increasing number of senior paralegals with law degrees are being required to work on contract work rather than the more traditional remit of corporate secretarial duties. This exposure to increased responsibility and contract work in different areas is driving further demand for top talent and as a result there are an increasing number of sought-after candidates taking up roles under a Junior Legal Counsel title.
Across Asia hiring intentions are inevitably different and in China and Taiwan the market buoyancy for roles is broadly speaking not expected to see as much growth as other countries in the region. James Hickman, Managing Partner of Aquis Search talked of some opportunities for growth in Asia, saying “Generally our core area of focus are governance roles in areas like compliance, finance, legal and risk. The frameworks within which these functions operate is continually changing, regionally and globally, and this has been the case for the last ten years. While I do think we are at the tail end of growth in these sectors there are still numerous opportunities in the region for job seekers interested in Asia. Short term demand for people will remain high. The real threat to jobs in all industries is the increasing trend towards technological solutions. Tough markets often accelerate innovation”.
Aquis Search has produced over 20 salary surveys which can be downloaded from the website at https://www.aquissearch.com/salary-surveys