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The Asia Chronicles: A Look at Current Hiring Trends

Singapore skyline.jpg[Disclosure: This post is authored not by the Asia Corporate Lawyers, but by Evan Jowers and Robert Kinney of Kinney Recruiting — sponsor of the Asia Chronicles, and an ATL advertiser. Kinney has made more placements of U.S. associates and partners in Asia than any other firm in the past two years. You can reach them by email at asia at kinneyrecruiting dot com.]
On Monday we discussed some positive trends in M&A in Asia, notwithstanding the turmoil in credit markets and overall economic downturn globally. Today, we discuss very briefly some of the lateral hiring trends we have been seeing in Asia recently and in ’08 in general.
We have not seen an overall reduction in hiring of U.S. associates in Asia, but firms have been much more selective than in ’07. This is for a variety of reasons. Some notable U.S. and British firms in Asia are hiring at a significantly slower clip than in ’07, but this unfortunate trend is being balanced out by other peer firms hiring significantly more than in ’07. There are a number of firms in heavy expansion mode, with several top U.S. firms in Hong Kong / China, for example, that will easily double the size of their offices in ’08. Some U.S. firms in Asia have very aggressive medium-term (5-6 year) expansion plans to have 100+ attorney offices. Interestingly, and perhaps surprisingly to readers, some of the most urgent needs still happen to be for mid-level to senior U.S. securities associates, despite the slower pace of capital-markets deal flow coming in.
It is important to note that in ’08, there are as much as three to four times as many U.S. associate candidates on the market for Asia positions, compared to ’07. Firms can afford to be a lot more selective and also can take their time with hiring decisions, much more than was the case in the frenzied hiring environment in Asia in ’07. While we are seeing the same pace of hiring in the Asia markets in ’08 that we saw in ’07, it has become a more difficult market to break into for some U.S. associates than was the case in ’07.
Read more, after the jump.

Language skills have become more important in hiring decisions this year, but firms need their new associate hires to have native-level English skills just as much as they need native-level Mandarin or other Asian language skills. In China, the documentation on most deals continues to be in English, but much of the negotiations and other communication is in Mandarin when a Chinese public company is involved. Because many native Mandarin-speaking junior to mid-level associates cannot draft at a very high level in English, English-only associates will continue to be hired for firms’ China practices. They will also continue to be hired at high rate for firms’ Pan Asia practices.
In 2008 we are seeing a trend that emphasizes hiring attorneys with J.D.s and native Mandarin language ability, relative to native English speaking J.D.s, by the top end firms in Hong Kong / China. In general, the top U.S. firms in Asia, as well as U.S. practice groups at British firms in Asia, are continuing to seek U.S. J.D.s over other associate candidates and language skills and other impressive background will not usually impress firms if sans J.D. In ’08, U.S. and British firms in Asia have become more cautious when hiring junior native Mandarin speaking associates who have no J.D. The reluctance to hire comes from a perceived lack of quality of hires at NYC firms during the NYC associate hiring boom of ’07. Many LL.M.’s were hired during that frenzy before they were prepared to handle a full-fledged associate role at a major U.S. law firm. In ’08, only the most impressive junior associates with only U.S. LL.Ms are able to make the true lateral move to associate position at a top U.S. practice in Asia.
As noted, a number of U.S. firms in Asia hired less than ideal candidates at the very junior level in ’07 due to the shortage of candidates. In ’08, there are many more solid U.S. associate candidates on the market in Asia (although still a severe shortage of truly bilingual solid U.S. associate candidates). Firms are taking the opportunity to make more thoughtful and selective hiring decisions. A lot of junior U.S. associates, including class of ’07s, are being hired in Asia this summer, but a larger proportion of U.S. associate hires this year are mid-level and senior than was the case in ’07.
Practices in demand for U.S. associate hires in Asia continue to be M&A, private equity downstream (which is very M&A related), and cap markets. In less demand, but still an urgent U.S. associate need at some firms, are banking & finance, structured finance, fund formation, real estate and energy. U.S. associates continue to be in demand in not only Hong Kong / China, but also Japan and Singapore as well. Languages in demand are not only Mandarin, but also Korean, Japanese and Hindi. (Korea and India practices are in major growth mode at some top firms, with Korea practices usually based in Hong Kong or Tokyo and India practices usually based in Hong Kong or Singapore.)
Please feel free to suggest new topics of interest in the comments area. We’ll keep an eye out.
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The Asia Chronicles are sponsored by Kinney Recruiting. You can reach them by email at asia at kinneyrecruiting dot com.

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