“Legal recruitment in Singapore and throughout the Southeast Asia region is picking up, driven by a growing number of lawyers who are flocking from the West to the stable and quickly growing economies of the East”, as Singapore legal recruiter jlegal detailed recently on their blog.

Seeking to capitalize upon the expansion of financial services activity, law firms have rapidly increased their presence in Singapore — as the report detailed.  This influx of lawyers “has had a tremendous impact on the region’s legal services sector as a whole. Data from the Singapore Ministry of Law show the industry was worth about $1.9 billion in 2012, up from $1.5 billion in 2008.”

Notably, the Asia-Pacific legal markets, which stretch from South Korea to the Pacific Islands and include the key legal markets of Hong Kong, Shanghai, Singapore, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur and Sydney, among others – are estimated by Alan Hodgart and Dr George Beaton to double in size between 2013 and 2022.

Legal market liberalization, economic integration in the ASEAN region, public infrastructure investment, increased M&A activity, an increase in lucrative arbitration work and, as Eric Chin has detailed, the expansion of foreign and domestic multinational corporations are just a few of the drivers powering this regional legal market growth.

Legal recruitment growth has been noted throughout Asia

The View from Hong Kong

Rob Green, CEO of Asia-Pacific Region GRMSearch, outlined the impact of foreign law firm expansion in Asia upon the region’s legal recruitment market: “What we’ve seen over the past few years is an increase in western law firms moving into new markets across the APAC region. Firms have been opening up offices in Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, Indonesia and latterly Myanmar, to directly compete for business in those markets against the traditionally strong local law firms. This has led to those law firms in each country looking outside of their traditional “home” markets for further growth.

A more competitive and growing marketplace across a vast array of countries has meant an increase in the need for specialist legal recruitment firms, like GRM, with pan-Asia connections and data. From our bases in Asia and Australia, we have been able to service the growth of law firms, especially helping those moving into new markets with their due diligence and candidate data.

My view is this will continue as Asia becomes a more inter-twinned marketplace and more and more law firms expand across the region. The winners will be the clients they serve as well as local lawyers in each market being exposed to more opportunities at home and throughout APAC”.

The View from Kuala Lumpur

Eddie Law, Recruitment Director at 8-year-old legal recruitment pioneer ELawyer in Kuala Lumpur — explains, “In Asia, [the] legal recruitment market is most mature in Hong Kong, Singapore and China. Generally, the ASEAN market [is] still [early] stage. There is in fact huge room to grow in these markets, especially when law firms from mature markets expand their presence in the ASEAN region. The market in Malaysia is gradually adapting to recruiting lawyers via professional recruiters as the law firms see the value added by legal recruiters to the recruitment process.

With the traditional management style of law firms and the increase in accessible job information, legal talents are now even more mobile and eager to leave private practice. These factors contribute to worsen the loss of mid-tier talents in private practice.  Although technology and social media is able to perform certain aspects of a recruiter’s role (i.e. reaching out to passive candidates), the consultation and assessment aspect of a recruiter’s role is only able to be performed by a professional recruiter. Like every profession, we should adapt to technology and leverage its benefits, rather than work against it.  So do not fear but be bold.”

The View from Tokyo

Robin Doenicke, President of Tokyo’s Zensho Group explained how the Japanese legal recruitment market “has seen a significant increase in activity compared to last year. Demand for lawyers in both the private practice sector and the in-house sector has really picked up. International law firms have been steadily restructuring their local practices to bring them more in line with global strategic objectives.

This has resulted in a number of lawyers, particularly Japanese bengoshi, leaving the international firms to establish their own domestic practices. We’ve also seen a growing number of partner-level lawyers, particularly those at the US firms, considering lateral moves to other firms in the market. Most of this activity has been centred around the practice areas of Corporate/M&A, Litigation/Disputes, Intellectual Property and Project Finance. There is an increasing level of interest from private practice lawyers looking to explore their in-house career options too. We’ve seen (and assisted) a number of such individuals looking to become in-house counsel at companies in the pharmaceutical and technology sectors.

There is a growing need for such people and clients in this space tend to prefer lawyers with significant private practice transactional experience. There are also a number of international law firms looking to establish a local presence here for the first time. In the past six months alone we’ve had enquiries from four international law firms, all of which were interested to discuss the feasibility of setting up shop here and the challenges of recruiting the right people on the ground to get the venture up and running as efficiently as possible.”

Market is characterized by Pan-Asia recruiters and local boutique specialists

Asia’s legal recruitment market is characterized by two types of firms.  Pan-Asia legal recruitment firms and local specialist boutique recruiters.  Among the pan-Asia recruiters are Kinney Recruiting, Hudson, Major, Lindsey & Africa MLA, Laurence Simons, Hughes Castell, Lewis Sanders, GRMSearchTaylor Root, Robert Walters, Hays, Cypress Recruiting Group, Michael Page, jlegal, JAC Recruitment and Legal Labs.

Specialist local legal recruiters include China Legal Career and Staranise in mainland China and Hong Kong, Zensho, Experis Legal Futures and Legal Intel in Japan, Aquila Executive Search in Myanmar, eLawyer and Office Parrots in Malaysia, Legal People, Marsden International, Burgess Paluch Legal Recruitment, Mahlab, Kaleidescope Legal Recruitment, OneLegal, Legal Personnel, Law Staff, EA International, Parkes Legal Recruitment, Burrows Legal and Amicus Legal Recruitment in Australia, Vahura in India, Calico Asia in Singapore, Niche Recruitment, Legal Personnel, McKenzie Ellis, Williams Legal Recruitment and Shilton Sharpe Quarry in New Zealand and Monroe Consulting Group and Pure Recruitment in Thailand.

What’s in store for the future?

Trends seen in the Asia-Pacific legal markets in 2015 are hastening the growth in the Asia-Pacific legal recruitment market in 2016. As the World Bank has detailed: “Growth in Developing East Asia and Pacific has remained resilient and is expected to ease only modestly, from 6.5% in 2015 to 6.3% in 2016 and 6.2% in 2017-18.” Given that stable growth, it’s likely the legal markets will also continue to expand apace and the legal recruitment market will also continue to grow along with it.

Posted by Asia Law Portal

A forum for discussion of news, information & opportunity in the Asia-Pacific legal markets.

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