In March 2016, Shulin Lee co-founded Singapore-based legal recruitment firm ANSA Search, along with Helen Ng. In just a few short years – the firm has grown to more than 9 full-time professionals. In this interview with Asia Law Portal, Lee explains the current market in legal and compliance recruitment, what inspired her career in legal recruitment, and how she helps lawyers advance their careers in challenging times.
In 2016, you founded ANSA Search, a specialist Legal & Compliance recruitment firm. What inspired this and how are you helping lawyers, law firms and legal departments?
In March 2016, my co-founder, Helen Ng (whom I’ve known for 10 years) and I decided to set up a “two-woman show”. ANSA Search commenced business in a small serviced office with no windows, two desks and one small printer. It’s now grown to 9 and counting – we have just made 4 new hires in the last 2 months.
What was the inspiration behind starting ANSA? In speaking with clients, lawyers and compliance professionals, we felt there was an acute need and gap in the market – for a homegrown specialist recruitment firm, with deep roots and headquartered out of Singapore.
We are consultants who work in Asia, understand Asia and are committed to the region. As such, we have been able to go above and beyond in helping lawyers make unconventional (as well as conventional) career moves. We are uniquely positioned to advise lawyers with regard to charting out their short, medium to long term career moves. This is not just about making that job switch for a 10-15% pay increment – it’s about visualizing that end-game and working together with lawyers over many years, to help them get to their ultimate destination.
As we have now accumulated years of experience in placing Teams, Partners, General Counsels and even built out entire teams of Legal & Compliance professionals in banks, MNCs and FinTechs; we often do not merely play the role of a recruiter. We have consistently been able to add value by providing longer term strategic advice, benchmarking information and are able to provide discrete due diligence services for our clients.
Law firms looking to hire partners and associates who would be able to thrive in an evolving and increasingly competitive Asian market, have been seeking ANSA consultants to assist in challenging search assignments. We understand Asia, we know the market well and we’re able to advise our clients how best to position themselves to attract the best talent in the market.
What have been the major accomplishments of ANSA Search since its’ founding?
Whilst we firmly believe in letting our work speak for itself, it does feel great to win awards and nominations. Appended below are some recent accolades:
★ Gold Award – Most Innovative Agency, Human Resources Asia Recruitment Awards 2020
★ Silver Award – Best Recruitment Agency, Human Resources Asia Recruitment Awards 2019
Finalist for Human Resources Asia Recruitment Awards 2020 and 2019:
★ Best Specialist Recruitment Firm – Legal, Compliance Risk
★ Recruiter of the Year
You frequently volunteer to help aspiring lawyers. Tell us more about this
I, too, was once a young lawyer unsure about how to chart my career and was struggling with making that shift out of the legal profession, into the unknown.
As a firm believer in paying it forward, giving back and sending the ladder back down, I enjoy volunteering with NUS Law (where I graduated from), SMU Law, the Singapore Academy of Law and other organizations, even more recently, with my primary school as an Alumni member.
I have the deepest respect for my friends, peers and many of my clients – who are deeply passionate about their work in law. Personally, I didn’t take the conventional path to stay on as a lawyer and it was a difficult decision when I eventually made that switch out. Looking back, I wish I had sought out a mentor, an older lawyer or a trusted recruiter for career advice.
So the reason why I volunteer – is to share my experience and to also share from the experiences of many other more senior lawyers I work with. My message to everyone who’s unsure about their career path is simple – to play to their strengths, not only choose the path of least resistance and to have courage to seek where your passion lies.
What inspired you to pursue a career in legal recruitment?
I will always have very fond memories of my time as a practising lawyer. In 2006, I started off with Allen & Gledhill as an IP and Litigation lawyer. I was an Associate for about 4 years and was exposed to a wide range of corporate, advisory and disputes work as well. A little known fact about me – I then went on to be a DPP with the AG Chambers, for a short stint. My aim was to advocate as 1st chair, in open court, which I managed to do!
Legal recruitment was something I sought out to do – I was inspired by my mum who’s been in insurance sales for more than two decades. My strength as a lawyer was with business development and in “pitching”, as well as “selling”. Legal recruitment seemed like something that could marry my legal background and my strengths as someone who enjoys chasing down deals and making things happen.
What’s the current state of the Asia-Pacific market in legal and compliance recruitment?
The market has evolved dramatically, even more so during the pandemic. In our line of work, we have seen clients adopt the use of technology in ways which were previously unimaginable.
Senior lawyers and compliance professionals who have not been keeping up with the times, re-tooling and adapting, have, unfortunately been left in the dust. In the last 2-3 years, we have seen an increased number of senior professionals finding it particularly challenging when moving between roles.
The silver lining is that new roles are being created. Legal technologists, Risk & Compliance positions for lawyers and business-roles which are happy to consider commercial-minded lawyers. The sky is the limit for lawyers who are ready and open to think and operate out of the box.
What advice do you have for lawyers interested in a career move in the Asia-Pacific region in 2020?
We are left with a couple of months before it’s Christmas! For lawyers who are thinking of making a move, it’s time to dust off that CV and think further as to what their end-game is. Make a 5-year plan and think twice before actually sending that CV out. The grass is not necessarily always greener.
My advice to lawyers is always to try and make it work where they currently are. If it’s really time to move, pluck up the courage and make the move. After all, where calculated risk is taken, often-times, there can be a sweet reward.