China Legal Salary Survey 2018

China Legal Salary Survey 2018

almost 2 years ago by Miriam Leung

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The Aquis Search China Legal Private Practice Salary Survey 2018 details salary information and recruiting trends in the business sectors we cover. Our information has been researched and collated with the help of our clients and candidates and from our working knowledge of the marketplace. Aquis Search consultants have extensive expertise in their practice area and the information reported is based on telephone interviews with hiring managers, HR professionals and in-house recruiters as well as data extracted from our own extensive database and internal research resources. 

As with all reports that detail salary information and trends, we represent the mainstream view and we recognise there will be individual situations that fall outside the data published. This survey is therefore a guide to general movement in the sector. Please contact us for further information or for clarification on any of the compensation trends detailed in this report.

Private Practice

Market Overview

In general international law firms in China are stable in size, and we have seen very little if any expansion take place in 2017. The need for inbound business has dropped and firms are focussing on outbound growth. Local firms, in contrast, have rapidly grown with practices such as Fangda and King & Wood Mallesons adding significantly to their permanent headcount. Annual bonuses at local firms can be as high as 6 to 8 months and they are willing to take the candidates from international law firms. Competition for talent is fierce, especially for associates with 3 to 4 years of PQE and packages are frequently tailored to meet individual’s demands.


We expect to see stable and sustainable growth in China in the upcoming period. PRC law firms will continue to grow and many firms have hired experienced lawyers from bigname international outfits in the region. Opportunities within PRC firms will become increasingly attractive to many senior lawyers from international law firms as they are able to offer fast track career progression plus benefits that are comparable or exceed those offered by international firms. Under the regulations in China, international law firms can only operate as representative offices and are restricted from giving Chinese law advice. As a result, a number of international firms have set up joint operations with Chinese firms and we expect to see a growing trend with this arrangement whereas other international firms will hire opportunistically but more likely to maintain the same headcount in China.

US Firms

PQE - YearsUSD per annum 
1160,000 - 180,000
2175,000 – 190,000
3185,000 – 210,000
4210,000 – 235,000
5230,000 – 260,000
6250,000 – 280,000
7270,000 – 300,000
8290,000 – 315,000+

US Firms (PRC Associates)

PQE RMB per annum
1 – 3250,000 – 500,000
4 – 6450,000 – 800,000
7 – 9800,000 – 1,100,000+

UK Firms

PQE RMB per annum
0 – 2300,000 – 500,000
3 – 5 500,000 – 750,000
6 – 8 800,000 – 1,000,000
9 – 111,200,000 – 1,500,000
12+1,500,000 +

In-House Commerce

Market Overview

Local corporates continue to actively expand overseas, and are looking to actively hire outbound lawyers. We have seen acquisitions such as that of McDonald’s China by predominantly Chinese firms who embark on an aggressive growth policy, expanding their legal teams in the process. Other sectors are also performing well generally, and legal roles are emerging continuously in a number of key markets.

Luxury Goods, FMCG & Retail

With the rising of a new middle class, high quality consumer goods are being produced to satisfy customers looking for an artisan feel to the products they invest in. 2017 saw some markets such as fashion, luxury goods and retail pick up and establish a greater physical presence in the main towns and cities across China, opening stores at a faster rate than we have seen for while. The need for on the ground legal support has thus grown with departments established to manage individual brands or regions rather than matters being handled out of regional headquarters. Although this is a current trend we have noticed, legal talent will likely find most opportunities in this area if they have ecommerce and operation experience and skills.
In the FMCG sector we are seeing some traditionally stable firms such as Mars and General Mills downsizing teams to cost save in the face of challenging market conditions.

Technology, Media & Telecommunications (TMT) 

The innovation and technology industry is booming. The robotics industry for example, has grown exponentially, with only 458 companies in existence in in 2015 and almost 7,000 by end of 2017. This is a huge growth rate, especially when the additional supporting companies are taken into consideration too – with the emergence of countless innovations from service robots to industry robots. There is a considerable skills gap as only a few hundred graduates enter the industry each year, yet tens of thousands of roles are being created. Opportunities are abound for legal and compliance professionals who are already in the technology industry, and they will find they have the luxury of being able to choose the role and area of expertise they want.
ExperienceAnnual Package
Legal BackgroundFinance background
0 - 2 Years300,000 - 600,000 250,000 - 550,000
3 - 5 Years550,000 - 900,000  500,000 - 800,000
6 - 8 Years850,000 - 1,350,000 750,000 - 1,100,000
9 - 11 Years1,200,000+ 1,000,000+


PQE/ ExperienceAnnual Package (RMB)
PRC Only Admitted CounselsInternational Admitted Counsel
0 - 2 Years120,000-300,000150,000 - 360,000
3 - 5 Years 180,000 - 500,000350,000-750,000
6 - 8 Years 450,000 - 900,000550,000 - 1,400,000
 9 - 11 Years  600,000 - 1,100,000850,000 - 1,800,000 
12 - 14 Years  750,000 - 1,800,0001,100,000 - 2,200,000
15+ Years900,000 – 2,200,000+ 1,300,000 - 3,000,000+


ExperienceAnnual Package (RMB)
Patent-Admitted CounselsCommercial IP or Trademark Counsels
0 – 2 years240,000 - 450,000 200,000 - 350,000
 3 – 5 years300,000 - 700,000  250,000 - 600,000
 6 – 9 years450,000- 1,000,000 500,000 - 850,000
10+ years700,000 - 2,000,000+ 700,000 - 1,200,000+

The entertainment industry has boomed over recent years, and this shows no sign of slowing. In the past year, many entertaining events have resulted in further fuelling growth. Reality TV shows such as The Rap of China, occupied the entertainment headlines for much of 2017, creating financially influential businesses that leverage their mass audience content. As a result, legal opportunities, especially those related to copyright protections, are increasing.

The gaming sector is still gaining strength with many companies having experienced high levels of growth. To support expanding and diversified markets, even opening physical stores to sell character merchandise, we are seeing an increased need for IP and general counsel.


In June 2017 The People’s Republic of China Network Security Law came into effect forcing companies, especially those operating an online-to-offline (O2O) business model to step up their cybersecurity programs. The law requires certain measures are put in place to safeguard network security, cooperate with inspections and undertake social responsibilities. In addition, a security assessment is required prior to the transfer of cross border personal data. Failure to comply or to inadequately protect systems allows the PRC government or related authorities the right to limit or shut down the network communications in the event of security emergencies. The implications for local and international firms is far reaching, and the consequences of non-compliance too great to risk. There is a lack of suitably qualified or experienced lawyers in the market, and corporations have had no choice to lower their expectations when looking to hire talent to bolster their legal departments and keep up with future changing regulations


In general, we expect the market in 2018 to be more active than 2017. As a result salaries may rise as much as 20% in some sectors. The interview process is still long and clients are taking a cautious approach, ensuring they are paying only for the absolute best skills available.

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