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The Asia Chronicles: Fish-Head Soup

fish head soup.jpgAsia Chronicles logo.jpg[Ed. note: This post is authored 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: asia at kinneyrecruiting dot com.]

This is Robert, writing from back in the USA after another interesting week in Hong Kong. I took the photo above in a market in Hong Kong last week because it reminded me of some lawyers I know. These are tough times for many, no doubt. Many of the readers of this column have probably seen the recent New York Times article, which quoted and even pictured Evan Jowers as he was running around from meeting to meeting in Hong Kong. That article was so well known that one of our competitors who claim to specialize “exclusively” in recruitment for Asia chose to highlight the article in an advertisement, despite the fact that only we were quoted in it. While in Hong Kong, I learned from clients and contacts that dozens of new recruiters, unfamiliar with the market (some even from my home state of Texas), have been passing around resumes and cold-calling people in Hong Kong (even law firm partners) as if they knew Queen’s Road Central from Tsim Tsa Shui. They are bored in the USA and are reaching out, which is to be commended but won’t help your job search.

In light of the title of the article in the New York Times (which indicated the market for attorneys is comparatively great abroad) and the influx of resumes we have seen from potential candidates for Asia with no nexus to the region and/or relatively weak academic and work experience, I thought it might be useful to set the record straight on exactly how “hot” the market is in Asia. “Hot” is the wrong word. Perhaps things have changed just in four weeks but, in fact, there are layoffs happening in Hong Kong, Tokyo, Singapore and mainland China as we speak. To our disappointment, we have found recently that one candidate we placed a year or two ago and others with whom we were working have been told that they will no longer have a position following a few months. The firms are cutting muscle in these cases, letting go very strong people with no severance other than a couple of months of notice and costs to return to the USA. Many people hope for a quick turnaround and say that they think the “second half of 2009” will look better, but in reality no one has a clue about the timing other than that everyone knows will come eventually and the first half of 2009 is as far in the future as they can see and up until then, it looks a lot like fish-head soup.

More after the jump.

Because we believe in straight talk this article is meant, in part, as a sobering reality check. We believe we are placing more attorneys at top law firms in Asia than any other recruiting firm in Asia, but the number of candidates we are placing as a percentage of the quality resumes we are seeing has gone down significantly. This makes me think of a candidate I spoke to in 2007, a Chinese national with a US JD from a top 25 school, from a middle market firm in a medium-sized US city. At the time his resume was somewhat special and I thought he was good candidate for several of our clients, so I urged the gentleman to apply to firms and warned that if he waited until 2008 his chances would shrink. This is a warning we repeated over and over. He could tell I knew what I was talking about, but he wasn’t ready and said that he would think about it again in 2008. I have not heard from him as far as I know, but the prognosis for this person’s job search today would not be good. I hope he’s happy in Oklahoma City, so to speak.

Now, with all that said, several of our clients have told us over the last few weeks, including in meetings last week, that on the associate front they either have new needs or they have needs that will arise in early 2009 with their new budgets. We have made three placements this month of associates in Asia and we will have several more who will start by mid-January. Some of these openings are unusual – one of our clients wants a financial regulatory associate. Another is interested in litigation associates. Another wants to upgrade its people since they made some bad hires (through our competitors, thankfully), last year. We anticipate flat to slightly increased associate activity in Asia overall next year and we’ll be grateful for that. Many partners at firms in Hong Kong and China with whom we have spoken anticipate fast recovery next year, at least faster than the US recovery.

So, who should be contacting us to talk about Asia? Well, anyone can contact us and if we can tell you are a serious potential candidate and we can make the time, we’ll either talk to you by phone or send you some additional written information that will help you understand the market. Give us all the information about yourself you can and we will keep total confidentiality. But who can we place? Well, not the associate with no Asian experience or background who works for an Amlaw 200 firm in their Pittsburgh corporate department. But that’s an easy one. The closer calls are all case-by-case and depend on a lot of factors, only some of which are apparent on paper. You never know if we happen to have been in the office of a partner last week who said he needed someone JUST LIKE YOU. In general, though, we’re finding that clients want to know that you have been a star at whatever you have been doing, have both an entrepreneurial spirit and team player attitude, and can demonstrate a sincere interest in and commitment to Asia.

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