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Overview of the legal recruitment market in Asia

Posted by: Laurence Simons 17/04/13

Legal Recruitment in India

Despite some uncertain economic times across the globe, the Indian legal recruitment market seems to have been affected less than other countries. Industries such as TMT and consumer goods have fared well, with continued growth and expansion throughout the country leading to an increase in hiring requirements. 55% of legal departments in India experienced headcount growth in 2012 although in most cases, this related to replacement hires rather than team expansion. This was particularly prevalent in financial services, where lawyers looked to move out of the sector.

There has been a definite increase in the demand for lawyers with compliance experience throughout the Asian market. 73% of respondents in India stated that when sourcing their compliance staff, a legal background is preferable. This comes as no surprise given that 71% of organisations include the compliance function as part of their legal department. Only 15% of companies in India have a standalone compliance function - a figure which we expect to see increase over the coming years.

When considering a new role, candidates are putting a greater focus on base salaries and the overall value of benefit packages. Candidates have become wary of bonuses and in circumstances where employers have not been willing to consider an increase in base salary as a substitute for a bonus, the offers have often been rejected. This is surprising as 72% of lawyers in India received a bonus in 2012 (12% higher than the global average) with the highest proportion (31%) receiving between 10% and 19% of their basic salary. 51% indicated this was an increase in bonus and 40% saw no change year on year.

With 38% of those working within law firms suggesting that they would consider a move in-house in 2013, it is important to note that this move could lead to a significant reduction in base salary. However, for those looking to move from one in-house role to another, salary increases are achievable and expected. As the competition for talent has increased across Asia and other key regions, remuneration has risen in India as companies contest to entice key hires and retain staff.

Lawyers with niche experience are well placed to find new opportunities and demand competitive remuneration packages as they are in short supply. Counter offers are also not uncommon as organisations remain focused on cost management and the need to avoid rehiring costs.

With 65% anticipating some level of headcount growth in 2013 (an increase of 10% on 2012 figures) the market appears to be improving. Candidates will need to manage their remuneration expectations as 41% of respondents indicated they would be looking for an uplift in salary of 31% or more when considering a new role. This is unlikely to be realised in every case. Considering 72% of lawyers in India feel optimistic about the future of the economy, a dramatic contrast to the 32% of lawyers globally who feel the same way, India is perhaps an attractive market for lawyers to consider when looking for their next opportunity.

Legal Recruitment in China

Growth in China remained stable in 2012, with steady inflation figures and strong domestic consumption of up to 40% of GDP. In spite of threats of a European downturn, many multinationals continued to invest and expand into China and as a result, the role of compliance grew in importance.

Due to significant growth in the technology, life sciences, pharmaceuticals and FMCG industries, there has been a relocation and expansion of a number of roles being recruited in China that were once based in other Asian countries. The growth of localised brands has increased in recent months with the assembly, manufacturing and engineering of consumer goods all taking place in China and as a result creating new roles across the country. As these local brands expand and look to compete internationally, it is expected that there will be an increase in opportunities for individuals with FCPA, anti-bribery and anti-corruption experience.

The overall positive forecasts in China have ramped up both local and foreign investment in the region and as a result there has been an upwards revision of salaries, with increments between 20% and 35% above the norm. This explains why 24% of those considering a new role in 2013 will be expecting an increase in salary of more than 31% of their basic salary.

Legal Recruitment in Hong Kong

Hong Kong managed to retain traction on services and in-bound travel to cushion the impact of the global economy in 2012. On the domestic front, consumption remained strong growing up to 5.6%, with particular growth being experienced in the life sciences, pharmaceuticals and FMCG industries.

With global investors gravitating towards Asia, Hong Kong retains an advantageous position thanks to its friendly tax systems and the fact that it is a developed Asian market. As investment in the region increases, the need for multinationals to bolster their compliance functions will grow in importance.

A number of global companies view Hong Kong as a stepping stone into the attractive market of China. As a result, there have been investments and recruitment opportunities for individuals with FCPA, anti-bribery and anti-corruption experience. Salaries have reflected the positive aspirations of investors in Asia by moving upwards by an impressive 20% to 35%.

Legal Recruitment in Singapore

Singapore presented a resilient front throughout 2012, despite the global economy presenting a mixed picture. The legal recruitment market remained robust as a result of the significant growth in pan-regional projects, transactional work and infrastructure developments. Overall 47% of organisations in Singapore saw headcount growth in 2012, with a third employing an additional two lawyers.

While there were some major game changes in employment as a result of various consumer goods giants redirecting Asian headquarters into mass target markets such as China, for the most part infrastructure, software and components sectors in technology grew in 2012. This was due to the increasing demand for mobile applications and connectivity technology as well as intellectual property across both mature and developing markets in Asia. As European multinationals look to bolster their Asian based operations, the requirement for compliance professionals has increased. Interestingly, 63% of organisations in Singapore include the compliance function as part of the legal department and 71% prefer to source their compliance employees from a legal background.

It is expected that in 2013 a number of global multinationals will look to set up operations in the booming emergent markets within the South East Asian region, namely Indonesia and Vietnam. This focus has generated opportunities for individuals with FCPA, anti-bribery and anti-corruption experience, as these are viewed as highly desirable skill sets.

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