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Hong Kong skyline HK island skyline Above the Law blog.jpgWe and our sponsors on this series of articles, Kinney Recruiting, Inc., have taken some heat in the comments and our inboxes over the last two months. Now that we have slowed up a bit at work, after being slammed for several weeks, next week we’ll move forward with more substance about what it’s actually like to work here in Asia.
Perhaps what follows will assist some of you in understanding why Kinney’s involved. We thought it might be cathartic (for us) and informative (for you) for us to lay out why we turn to Kinney Recruiting as a source of information for these posts.
This article discusses what we think you should look for in a U.S. associate recruiter for the Asia market. We’ll use Kinney as an example, because we think they make the grade, but we aren’t saying that only Kinney can do a good job representing a U.S. associate in the Asia markets.
If you are considering a job search in Asia, you should put a lot of thought into the recruiter selection process. Don’t just go with the next recruiter that cold calls you. The process is much more complicated than simply making a move down the street or to another domestic market. It’s a higher-risk process for both the candidate and the target firms.
We suggest that you ask any recruiter who wishes to represent you in Asia the following questions before sending in your resume:

1) How many U.S. associate placements has the recruiter made in the particular Asia market you are targeting? Some U.S.-based recruiters that claim expertise in Asia have actually made few if any placements there, and many Asia-based recruiters have placed exclusively locally-qualified attorneys.

2) Can the recruiter provide five or more references of past U.S. associate placements in Asia?

3) Can the recruiter provide detailed information about the interview / hiring process? The process can take months and include numerous phone calls, video conferences, and Asia travel.

4) Who are the specific partner contacts the recruiter has at each target firm and in your practice area?

5) How much time does the recruiter spend in Asia each year? Ask for details regarding particular cities and firm office visits.

6) Can the recruiter provide details regarding expat / cola / housing packages at each firm you are targeting?

7) Can the recruiter provide you with details regarding the practice focuses at each of your target firms, including sample deal sheets?

There are many more questions to ask at early stages of the process, but these should help you determine whether the recruiter you’re dealing with can truly add value to your job search.
If the recruiter can’t answer these questions in a way that demonstrates familiarity with the Asia markets, could he/she still place you? Sure he could. A doctor who has never taken out an appendix could probably get yours out safely, too. But do you want your doctor experimenting on your appendix, or someone else’s? Be realistic — you want the best services if you are going to be trying your luck in Asia these days. A recruiter who has won the trust of hiring partners through repeated experiences with them will not only have more information to add to the mix for you, but will also be more likely to get the ear of the people who will make decisions about whether your future will be with a good firm out here.
Next week we’ll look at the actual state of the market out here in Asia, market by market. While the five of us have Singapore, Hong Kong and Tokyo covered, we’ll also be gathering data from our colleagues at firms in mainland China and other parts of Asia. If you know of specific openings or needs in these markets, please contact us.
Earlier: Prior installments of the Asia Chronicles (scroll down)
[Disclosure: Kinney Recruiting, which has made more placements of U.S. associates and partners in Asia than any other firm in the past two years, is the sponsor of this post.]

Asian language translation Asia language speakers ATL.jpgIn the last three installments of the Asia Chronicles, we’ve written about the perks and the (possible) disadvantages of working as a lawyer in Asia. We have been trying to give you a better idea of what it’s like to work over here and to help you decide if moving to Asia might be an option that you would like to explore.
But many of you have contacted us saying that you need to hear no more, you’re already convinced. You want to know what kind of skills American firms in Asia are looking for, and how to go about finding a job in this part of the world.
The most common question we get on this topic is about language ability: “How much of a difference will language skills, or lack thereof, make in the marketability of a job candidate?” As lawyers, none of you should be surprised that we can only answer this question with more questions:
1. How high is your language level, really?
We’ve seen a lot of job seekers come into our offices with resumes that describe their language skills as “proficient” or even “fluent,” but when we ask them even a basic question in that language, they often struggle to answer. In general, a few years of college language classes does not a fluent speaker make, and even people who have spent significant time immersed in a language environment rarely have learned the legal and business terminology that would be needed for common tasks such as reading due diligence documents, participating in a drafting session, or negotiating a comfort letter. Unless you are a native or legitimately fluent speaker, your language skills will honestly not be of much use to a law firm, and therefore will not balance out deficiencies in the core strengths of a candidate, such as graduating from a top-ranked law school with high grades or having valuable work experience.
That said, a glance at the attorney roster of many selective law firms in Asia reveals some lawyers with lower than average credentials but strong language and culture experience (time spent in the U.S. State Department is a common theme) that seems to have gotten them hired. However, having some lesser level of language ability could make a marginal difference with an otherwise qualified candidate because it may help convince a law firm that you are interested in and capable of living in a certain country and interacting well with people from that culture.
2. Do you really want to be hired based on your language ability?
One of the first hard truths that we learned after spending some time working in Asia is that having language skills might not always be something you want to advertise. We’ve seen many native and fluent speakers relegated to countless hours of foreign language documentary due diligence or translation because no one else in the office was capable of doing it. One of our colleagues has even been keeping her language ability a secret so that she can avoid being staffed on such mind-numbing projects. Lawyers who can speak and understand but cannot read or write (or at least pretend they can’t) have the advantage of being able to participate in the comparatively more interesting client meetings and negotiation while avoiding less enjoyable tasks.
Read more, after the jump.

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “The Asia Chronicles: Walking the Walk, Talking the Talk”

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