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  • Writer's pictureScott Harrison

Legal Recruitment in APAC: A Comprehensive Guide for Organisations

As we step into the heart of 2024, it's crucial to pause and reflect on the significant changes and developments that have shaped the legal recruitment landscape in the APAC region since late 2023. This period has been one of both challenges and opportunities, marked by pivotal shifts and emerging trends that have a profound impact on the way we approach legal recruitment today.


Stability in Hong Kong

One of the most notable trends has been the return to stability in Hong Kong. After a period of uncertainty, this resurgence has been a welcome change, reinforcing Hong Kong's status as a vital hub for legal expertise in APAC. This stability has not only boosted business confidence but has also opened new avenues for legal professionals and firms alike. Aquis Search has been at the forefront, facilitating key placements that leverage this renewed confidence.


Mainland China's Political Landscape

In contrast, Mainland China presented a more complex scenario. The evolving political landscape has, at times, posed challenges to our mission of attracting top-tier legal talent. Navigating these intricacies has not only tested our resolve but also sharpened our adaptability, allowing us to devise innovative strategies that align with the region's unique needs and potential.


The Rise of AI in Legal Recruitment

Another key trend reshaping the industry is the rapid advancement and integration of AI technologies. From streamlining candidate sourcing to enhancing talent matching, AI has brought a new level of efficiency to legal recruitment. However, while AI provides valuable tools, the human element—our intuition, expertise, and understanding of the legal landscape—remains irreplaceable in making nuanced decisions in legal recruitment.


In this report, we’ll cover the key trends and compensation data in the major APAC markets: Hong Kong, Singapore, and India. In addition, we’ll share qualities to look for in exceptional legal professionals as well as tips and insights on how to boost employee retention, attract foreign talent, and prepare your organisation against future challenges. 


We hope this report can help you navigate the dynamic legal recruitment landscape in APAC and secure the best-fit talent for your organisation.



The Evolving Role of General Counsel in the APAC Market


The year 2023 marked a dynamic period for legal recruitment across major APAC markets, each navigating unique challenges and opportunities. In Hong Kong, the easing of Covid restrictions led to a resurgence in legal hiring activities towards the year's end, with law firms keenly pursuing candidates in banking and litigation. 


Singapore's legal sector, having rebounded post-pandemic, entered a highly competitive, candidate-driven market in 2023. Law firms faced the challenge of balancing rising salary expectations, spurred by international law firms, while ensuring internal equity.


In India, mid-sized firms actively sought legal professionals with 6-12 years PQE, especially in corporate law and specialised areas like data privacy and compliance. The market saw substantial hiring in sectors such as real estate, EVs, and renewable energy. 


Across the Asia-Pacific region, a common thread was the increasing adoption of contract employment, reflecting a move towards more adaptable and cost-efficient hiring strategies.


Let’s take a look at each market in detail. 


Hong Kong: Resilience and Recovery


After Covid restrictions and lockdowns in 2022, Hong Kong’s economy geared up for recovery in 2023. We saw a pick up in legal recruitment activities near the end of 2023. Law firms are continuing to pursue candidates they had informal discussions with earlier in the year, with a particular interest in meeting with highly-skilled candidates in the banking and litigation sectors. Additionally, firms are actively looking to fill roles vacated by lawyers who left earlier in the year, demonstrating an ongoing need for legal professionals in the region.


For legal professionals in Hong Kong, the concept of "work flexibility" has emerged as a highly valued benefit when evaluating job offers, in addition to the traditional remuneration package. Law firms that adopt a hybrid work model, offering the option of one or two remote work days per week, are likely to enhance their appeal and successfully attract top-tier talent.


Hong Kong Legal In-house Annual Salary in 2023




Singapore: Candidate-first Market


Singapore’s legal sector prospered in 2022 as its economy bounced back from the pandemic. However, this led to a competitive job market in 2023 where law firms, corporations, and financial institutions all vied for the best legal talent, creating a “candidate-driven” market.


A key trend in 2023 was the rise in salaries, which began with international law firms raising pay, which then influenced salaries at regional firms and companies hiring in-house lawyers. This created a tricky situation for hiring managers, who had to balance offering attractive pay to bring in new talent while making sure salaries were fair across different levels within their teams.


In response to this intense competition, law firms have diversified their recruitment strategies, emphasising not only traditional factors like Book of Business but also putting importance on personality and cultural fit and technological savviness, especially with artificial intelligence and machine-learning tools. 


Source: Click here


Singapore Legal In-house Annual Salary in 2023



India: Recruitment Surge in Regulated Industries


Throughout 2023, the legal market in India witnessed significant shifts in hiring, particularly in mid-sized firms. These firms showed a keen interest in recruiting lawyers with 6-12 years of post-qualification experience (PQE). The demand was especially high for corporate lawyers and specialists in fields like data privacy, ethics, compliance, and intellectual property. Notably, candidates with 6-8 years PQE were often recruited directly from law firms, while those with over 9 years PQE were typically sought for their in-house experience.


Several key industries were at the forefront of legal hiring during the year. Real estate, electric vehicles (EVs), batteries, pharmaceuticals, medical devices, and renewable energy sectors, all highly regulated, saw a surge in the need for legal professionals. The gaming and esports industry also experienced a significant uptick in hiring early in the year, though it later adopted a more cautious stance in response to regulatory changes.


Another emerging trend in the Indian legal market is the rise of contract or interim recruitment, aligning with patterns observed in the Asia-Pacific region. Firms unable to secure approval for permanent headcount increasingly opted for contract roles, typically offering 1-year fixed-term renewable contracts. This approach has proven more cost-effective than seconding a candidate from a law firm, providing firms with flexibility and cost efficiency in their legal staffing strategies.


India Legal In-house Annual Salary in 2023




That being said, how do you know if you need a General counsel, and when to hire one?


Guide to Hiring an In-House General Counsel 


Determining the right time to hire a General Counsel (GC) is a critical decision for any growing business. The investment required for this strategic role is significant, yet the benefits a GC brings to an organisation can be game-changing. 


How to Know if You Need an In-House GC


Identifying the need for an in-house GC is crucial. Here are key indicators:



  1. Complex Legal Challenges Demand In-House Expertise

As your organisation faces more intricate legal challenges, the need for dedicated legal expertise becomes paramount. Unlike external counsel, an in-house GC can provide tailored, immediate advice that is closely aligned with your business's specific needs and risks.


  1. The Efficiency Gap: Slow Response from External Counsel

Relying solely on external legal firms can lead to delays, particularly when swift decision-making is required. An in-house GC ensures that legal advice is readily available, allowing for faster response times and more agile business operations.


  1. Navigating Expansion and Mergers with Legal Precision

During periods of growth, such as expansion or mergers, the legal complexities multiply. An in-house GC can play a pivotal role in guiding these processes smoothly, ensuring legal compliance and mitigating risks.


  1. Enhancing Interdepartmental Collaboration

An in-house GC can act as a legal bridge between different departments, integrating legal considerations into various business strategies and operations. This role is crucial for holistic and legally sound decision-making across the organisation.


  1. Maintaining Regulatory Compliance in a Dynamic Environment

With constantly evolving regulations, especially in diverse markets like APAC, having an in-house GC ensures that your organisation stays compliant and ahead of legal changes.


Understanding the need for an in-house GC highlights the direct benefits they bring to an organisation. But beyond these functional advantages, it's also important to consider the financial implications of such a strategic hire.


The Cost Savings of Hiring an In-House Legal Counsel


While the initial costs of hiring a GC (including salaries, perks, and hiring expenses) are significant, the long-term financial value far outweighs these expenses. Here are some examples:


Regulatory Compliance

Consider a licensed financial services entity that needs to address internal control, compliance, and legal matters for regulatory reasons. An in-house GC's expertise in these areas can prevent costly legal violations and regulatory penalties.


Efficiency in Legal Processes

In-house counsel can provide quicker turnaround times for legal issues, reducing the reliance on, and costs associated with, external legal firms. This efficiency not only saves money but also ensures that business operations are not hindered by legal delays.


However, the decision to hire an in-house GC is not just about addressing immediate legal needs or cost savings; it's equally about finding the right fit for your organisation. 


The qualities of a GC, particularly in a diverse and dynamic region like APAC, are critical to ensuring they align with and effectively contribute to your organisation’s goals and culture.


The Qualities to Look for in a GC


When hiring a GC, especially for operations in the diverse APAC region, consider these qualities:


  • Track Record: A proven history of successful legal management and decision-making is essential.


  • Adaptability: The ability to adapt to different business environments and legal landscapes, particularly in APAC, is crucial.


  • Cultural Fit: Understanding and integrating into the organization's culture, as well as the broader cultural context of the APAC region, is vital for effective legal guidance.


  • Communicative Skills: In APAC's diverse setting, excellent communication skills and the willingness to understand and adapt to different communication norms are crucial.


  • Technological Savvy: With the increasing role of technology in the legal field, a GC who is adept at using tech tools to enhance efficiency and effectiveness is highly desirable.


In the quest to find the ideal General Counsel, sometimes the perfect candidate may not be local but located overseas. 


Enticing top legal talent to relocate to your country is a nuanced process, requiring more than just an attractive job offer. It's crucial to have a well-thought-out relocation strategy that addresses the specific needs and concerns of candidates, especially in the diverse and complex APAC region.


The Relocation Challenge: How to Recruit the Best Talent


Relocating talent to various parts of the APAC region poses unique challenges. While cities like Singapore and Hong Kong offer a relatively straightforward relocation process, other areas might present more complex situations. Recognizing these challenges is the first step, and offering effective solutions is key to successful talent relocation.


Convincing Talent to Relocate to APAC Cities


The prospect of moving to a new city can be both exciting and daunting for potential candidates. Addressing their concerns and highlighting the benefits of such a move are crucial in making the relocation appealing.


Embracing Diversity of Experiences

One of the most compelling aspects of moving to a new city in APAC is the diversity of experiences on offer. This new environment can provide a more well-rounded perspective on both personal and professional matters, invaluable for career growth. The opportunity to immerse oneself in different cultures and business practices can significantly enhance an individual’s adaptability and global perspective.


The Appeal of a Challenge

High performers often seek challenging environments to test and hone their skills. Emphasising the unique challenges and opportunities in APAC cities can be a significant draw for these ambitious individuals. This appeal is particularly strong for those who thrive in dynamic settings and are eager to make a tangible impact in their new roles.


Competitive Compensation and Perks

Attracting top talent requires competitive compensation, but it's about more than just salary. Creative compensation packages, as detailed in MLA Global's insights on using creative compensation for recruiting, can be a game-changer. These may include benefits tailored to individual needs, emphasising the value the company places on its employees. Such packages not only meet the financial needs but also address the lifestyle and personal preferences of the talent, making the offer more attractive.


Highlighting Growth Potential

Working in APAC's fast-growing markets offers substantial career benefits. For instance, an American professional gaining experience and language skills in Mainland China becomes a highly valuable asset in global markets. This aspect of professional development is a major draw, as it opens doors to a myriad of future opportunities and positions the individual as a valuable player in the global marketplace.


Boosting Retention and Reducing Attrition


Maintaining a stable and satisfied workforce in a new location requires more than just successful initial recruitment. Companies must actively work to retain their talent by addressing their ongoing needs and aspirations.


Mapping Out Growth Paths

Offering clear career growth paths is essential for retention. Employees need to see a future with the company and understand the opportunities available for their career progression. This clarity not only aids in retention but also motivates employees to invest their best efforts, knowing that their growth and the company’s growth are intertwined.


Rethinking Perks and Benefits

It's important to consider a broader range of perks and benefits, including relocation expenses and support.


As Christie Babinski discusses in adapting to changes in executive relocation, rethinking relocation strategies is crucial in today's dynamic workplace environment. This holistic approach to relocation support not only eases the transition for employees but also demonstrates the company’s commitment to their well-being, which is a strong factor in employee satisfaction and retention.


Emphasising Diversity and Flexible Work Arrangements

Diversity and flexible work arrangements, such as hybrid working, have become increasingly attractive. They not only suggest a better work-life balance but also demonstrate a company's commitment to accommodating diverse needs and lifestyles. By offering such flexibility, companies can appeal to a broader range of talent and foster a more inclusive and productive work environment.


Clear Communication of Expectations

Finally, it's vital to communicate expectations clearly, including the specifics of remote or hybrid work arrangements, to ensure a smooth transition and integration into the new environment. Clear communication helps set realistic expectations and builds trust, which are key components of a successful and lasting employer-employee relationship.


AI, Gen Z, and the Future


As we look towards the future of legal recruitment, two key elements emerge as significant factors in shaping the landscape: the rise of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and the emerging influence of Generation Z. Understanding the impact of these factors is crucial for in-house recruiters in strategizing for the future.


The Rise of AI


Recent advancements in AI have been both intriguing and controversial. A notable instance involves a lawyer creating a court brief entirely generated by AI tools like ChatGPT, raising questions about the role of AI in legal drafting. While such developments showcase AI's potential in simplifying complex tasks, they also highlight limitations in creativity and reliability.


The impact of AI in the regulatory and legal industry, as discussed in Larson Maddox's article on AI, points to its growing significance. AI has been instrumental in streamlining processes, enhancing data analysis, and even in predictive analytics. 


However, it is essential to recognize that AI is not yet a substitute for human judgement and expertise. It lacks the creative and ethical reasoning that is often crucial in legal contexts. This means that while AI is a valuable tool, the need for competent in-house counsel with technical skills and legal acumen remains paramount. Legal firms must stay abreast of technological advancements while valuing the irreplaceable human element in legal decision-making.


The Role of Gen Z


As for Generation Z, they are gradually becoming a more influential force in the workforce. While the oldest members of Gen Z are still years away from assuming leadership roles, nurturing their unique skills and perspectives is vital. Gen Z is marked by their independence, tech-savviness, and a unique approach to work and leadership. They value authenticity, flexibility, and purpose-driven work, traits that can redefine workplace dynamics and expectations.


Engaging with Gen Z effectively means adapting recruitment strategies to appeal to their values. Offering opportunities for continuous learning, embracing technology, and fostering a culture of inclusivity and flexibility are key. 


Additionally, recognizing their potential for innovation and fresh perspectives can help legal firms stay ahead in a rapidly evolving market. As this generation continues to mature professionally, their role in shaping the future of the legal industry will undoubtedly become more pronounced.


Your Partner in Legal Recruitment: Aquis Search


As we reflect on the evolving landscape of legal recruitment in the APAC region, it's evident that the challenges and opportunities are as varied as they are significant. From adapting to the rapid advancements in AI to understanding the unique perspectives of Gen Z, and navigating the complexities of relocation, each aspect underscores the need for expert guidance and nuanced approaches in legal talent acquisition.


At Aquis Search, we stand at the forefront of this dynamic environment, offering unparalleled expertise and insight. Our decade-long experience in the legal recruitment market across Asia, from private practice to financial services and commerce, has honed our ability to connect exceptional legal talent with the right opportunities. 


Our deep network, extensive market knowledge, and close relationships with key industry players enable us to effectively navigate the intricacies of the legal landscape, ensuring the best fit for both employers and candidates.


Partner with Aquis Search, where our commitment to excellence and deep understanding of the APAC legal market can help you navigate the future of legal recruitment with confidence.


To start a conversation about your legal recruitment needs and learn more about how we can assist you, please email us at [info@aquissearch.com].






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