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PROFESSIONAL SERVICES/LEGAL | Staff Reporter, Hong Kong
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Hong Kong's 25 largest law firms 2014

Hong Kong on a hunt for corporate lawyers

If you are a Mandarin-speaking lawyer with a strong financial and litigation background, then you may be just what several Hong Kong law firms are looking for this year. Oliver Allcock, legal and compliance manager at professional recruitment consultancy Robert Walters Hong Kong, observes that nowadays, Hong Kong law firms are generally “in the mood” for hiring.

“The attraction of the Hong Kong Stock Exchange (HKEx) to both PRC (People’s Republic of China) and international companies creates many opportunities in the corporate M&A (mergers and acquisitions) and capital markets space, while Hong Kong’s position as the APAC (Asia-Pacific) hub for arbitration, commercial, and regulatory litigation will continue to drive the demand for contentious lawyers,” Allcock says.

Financial services firms in particular will likely recruit more lawyers as the government maintains its tight regulatory grip on the sector.

“Legal departments in financial services firms will be looking for professionals in derivatives, funds, and private banking mainly at the mid-level mark, as these are the products most utilized by banks,” notes Allcock. However, he adds that the major driving force in the financial services industry is regulatory and compliance law, as the entire industry continues to be under scrutiny of governments and regulators alike.

Heightened demand for lawyers

Even the government itself could use more lawyers as Hong Kong ramps up its anti-corruption efforts this year, says another analyst. “Continued regulation of financial services and a more stringent approach to corruption will mean the need for regulatory, advisory, and investigative lawyers will continue to be high,” says Ben Cooper, executive director at executive search firm GRMSearch.

Despite state scrutiny, Cooper notes that firms eager to go public and tap the equities market for fresh capital will also be catalysts for legal hiring in 2015.

“Legal firms are all hiring at the moment due to a lot of IPO (initial public offering) work, and also an increase in lending,” Cooper says.

“Regulatory knowledge is highly-prized across the board, and we see this trend continuing, especially with such recent developments as Stock Connect, which require a lot of regulatory knowledge,” he adds.

The Shanghai-Hong Kong Stock Connect, also known as Stock Connect, is a cross-border trading link launched last year, that aims to provide mutual trading access between the Mainland and Hong Kong.

“Stock Connect may well create a lot of business for lawyers,” Cooper says, adding however, “This remains to be seen.” This year, law firms will be challenged to fill the gap posed by a shortfall in lawyers with specific skills, such as Mandarin fluency, Allcock says. However, when it comes to attracting the right talent, law firms may need to sweeten the deal by boosting compensation packages.

Who made it to HKB’s list?

Mayer Brown JSM has once again topped Hong Kong Business’ ranking of the 25 largest law firms in the city, based on total number of legal professionals. Data compiled from individual company surveys and media reports show that Mayer Brown JSM is ahead of its closest competitor Deacons in staffing numbers by just 3 legal professionals.

Though the top 5 law firms weren’t shaken from their top spots, it’s very noticeable that Deacons have increased its legal professionals’ strength by 7.5%, adding 14 professionals to last year’s 186.

This year’s list also welcomes three new entrants; namely Norton Rose Fulbright with 73 legal professionals debuting at number 11, Holman Fenwick Willan in the 14th spot with 63 legal professionals. 

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