Ed. note: This post is authored by Evan Jowers and Robert Kinney of Kinney Recruiting, sponsor of the Asia Chronicles. Kinney has made more placements of U.S. associates and partners in Asia than any other firm in the past five years. You can reach them by email: [email protected]

We have what we consider a very special opening at a well known, global and prestigious hedge fund in Hong Kong that most likely will be filled by a US associate from a top firm in HK (or possibly from elsewhere in SE Asia). Kinney has been given an exclusive search to fill this role. Here are some of the basics of the background the fund is looking for. Please feel free to reach out to us at [email protected] for many more details.

  • Experience level – preferably 4 to 6 years of experience from top law firm (preferably US qualified)
  • At least a few years experience on the ground in Asia
  • English only is perfectly fine (Mandarin not required)
  • Significant debt experience
  • Great presentation and communication skills
  • Able to handle high level of responsibility without direct supervision in HK
  • Will be responsible for SFC regulatory compliance and keeping on top of relevant regulatory developments in numerous Asia markets
  • Will provide transactional support for public market trading desks

Candidates from cap markets or finance backgrounds, from top firms, could be a good fit for this role. Significant debt experience is key. Compensation is very competitive with what one would find at same level at a top Wall St. firm in HK / China (all in, including expat / cola). The new hire is likely to come from a top firm in Asia, rather than a bank or another in-house position, but those candidates will not be per se excluded.

The US biglaw lateral hiring market in Asia continues to be slow, as we expected going into first quarter ’12. Our prediction is that hiring will pick up by early summer. In any event, we have had a decent run of US associate and counsel placements in HK / China law firms in the first 9 weeks of the year, with 11 such placements thus far. The practice areas of these placements have been cap markets (3), M&A (3), Litigation (2), Fund Formation (1) and Project Finance (2). Two of these persons are fluent in Korean, eight are fluent in Mandarin and one is Indian background. We also have made two in-house placements of US attorneys this year in HK / China and an associate placement in Tokyo and Singapore. Our numbers are down compared to first quarter ‘11, but the lateral market was much hotter then and has been slow since late summer ’11. Currently, a number of our US associate candidates are interviewing in HK / China, Tokyo and Singapore for positions in project finance, fund formation, cap markets, litigation, and M&A.

Although we have made three recent US associate placements in cap markets practices in HK, most US cap markets teams are not hiring at this time (with some not even interviewing). We expect that to change in the next few months, as the outlook for IPO activity continues to improve a bit and US firm managements release restrictions on hiring by their HK / China offices (the restrictions are influenced not only by deal flow in Asia, but also by fall ’11 fears of possible “hard landing” in China and the conservative nature of US firms, regarding hiring, since the great recession). At this time, US cap markets teams that are hiring in HK / China can be extremely selective, unlike the recent hiring boom from late ’10 to mid ’11. Thus it can be difficult for even the most highly qualified US cap markets associates to get offers at present in HK / China. Last year at this time, most top US firms in HK / China had two or more cap markets associate openings, but most of these same cap markets practices are not hiring now.

However, part of the lack of hiring has to do with firm management in US putting holds or restrictions on hiring, rather than it being completely the result of lack of deal flow in Asia. Since the great recession of ’08, hiring partners at a number of US and UK firms in Asia have had to jump through hoops to get clearance to make offers, except for late ’10 through mid ’11, when most of these firms had the full green light to hire US associates as they please (only after many US cap markets practices in HK / China became very understaffed).

Further, one should consider the recent rise in new HK local corporate and cap markets practices, when examining the lack of US associate hiring recently. There are a number of US firms in HK with new HK local practices and some are not in a position to hire US associates because of the ratio issue (in order to have license to practice HK law, at least 50% of a firm’s lawyers must be HK qualified). Such firms have to hire HK qualified associates to fill cap markets and / or M&A needs (it can be very helpful to a US associate’s marketability to have HK qualification).

There are a handful of US M&A associate openings in HK / China and those groups are moving quicker to fill those spots, compared to cap markets openings. We expect hiring in this area also to improve in HK / China by late spring / early summer. However, senior associate / counsel / salary partner hiring in US M&A practices in HK / China is stronger than usual now. We are working on a several strategic senior level M&A openings at present.

As we have been reporting over the past year, US white-collar litigation is a growing practice area in HK / China. While there are only a small number of these practice groups, it is a rapidly growing area and we are working on three urgent openings now and have recently made a few litigation placements. There will be more of these practice groups being built in HK / China in the near and medium term future we believe, based on how many firms we know have on their drawing boards potentially building such new practices). However, keep in mind that while this is a rapidly expanding area, there can only be so many openings for what is still a handful of practice groups. The present time is a good window of opportunity though for Chinese background US litigation associates looking to move to HK / China though, especially considering the fact that many very well qualified Mandarin fluent US litigation associates at top 10 firms are not necessarily looking for such a move or ready to make such a move any time soon. As you know, those who chose litigation coming out of law school a few years ago would have likely felt they had almost no chance of lateraling to Asia in litigation as an associate. Thus, a lot of these folks have been taken by surprise over the past year, as suddenly they had recruiters calling them for spots in Asia, and they are well settled in the US. Also, the spots in Asia are exciting but it is a narrow white collar litigation practice focus, with particular attention to FCPA, so a number of impressive potential candidates are thinking this career move through before starting a job search. We believe that in the next year or so, a higher percentage of mandarin fluent litigation associates will be seeking a move to China than what is the case today. In that regard, it is a window of opportunity, in that there is less competition for those spots than there are for corporate / cap markets spots at top US practices in Asia. It is also a window of opportunity in that more firms will surely create these practices in HK / China in the next 4 to 7 years and there will only be so many senior associate / counsel level associates at that time in HK / China who have the right kind of experience on the ground there to be able to start one of these new practices as an equity partner.

Several of our US fund formation associate candidates are interviewing in Hong Kong and Shanghai, at a handful of different firms. Most of these hiring partners, though, are in a wait-and-see mode regarding whether and when to hire. Some of these partners are quite busy, but it is also a matter of getting clearance from firm management to make another hire, so they are waiting to see if they bring in the deals they are expecting to in the coming weeks and months. We expect to make a few more fund formation placements within the next couple of months. As with the US litigation practices in HK / China, the number of these practice groups will also grow in the next 7 years and it is an exciting time now and for the next 7 years to be a star senior associate / counsel in a funds practice in Asia, because such persons (there will be a limited number of them) are going to be recruited by firms to start new funds practices as a partner.

We have been more active in project finance than usual. These practice areas are growing in Asia and we have been placing associates in these groups. We are not seeing new practice groups, but an expansion of the dominant existing ones at US and UK firms in Asia. Most US firms in Asia do not have a project finance practice. One issue we deal with in project finance is that some of the best practices are in UK firms and while those firms typically consider US M&A and cap markets associates to be in their US practices, complete with generous expat / cola package, US associates landing in project finance practices in many cases do not get expat / cola at UK firms. It is an exciting practice area though and some of these mid-level spots have solid partnership track potential.

Bank Finance practice associate positions are usually (although not always) filled by non US associates in Asia. However, we have been able to help US finance associate transition to project finance positions at US and UK firms in Asia.

US firms in Singapore are for the most part steadily busy and interviewing impressive US lateral associate candidates, but not urgently hiring. We find that US firms in Singapore firms can be very selective and usually want their laterals to have some strong connection to Singapore or at least SE Asia. We do expect to make another Singapore US associate placement or two in Singapore over the next month.

Keep in mind that, due to how conservative US firms have been with hiring recently in US, US firm management has been in some cases waiting until serious understaffing occurs in their Asia offices before giving the full green light to those offices to hire as need be. The slow down in hiring over the past 9 months has had as much to do with firm managements’ fear of possible “hard landing” in China economy, as much as deal flow slow down. There has been a slow down in China IPOs to be sure (although this area is picking up some at present and HK is predicted to be the leading market in the world in IPOs yet again this year), and India practice work has been very slow, but a lot of practices have been busy. Now that fears of a hard landing in China have died down, and deal flow has picked up some, we expect more pressure on firms to hire by summer, especially if i-banks start hiring again and pulling associates out of the top US firms.

Typically, when US practices in Asia start hiring US associates again after been restricted from doing so for 6+ months, they will hire quickly and usually the hires will be candidates the hiring partners have been speaking with over the past few months already. Thus, it is highly advisable to not wait until there is a hiring boom to start a job search because although we expect a hiring boom in summer, it will only last as long as it does to fill 1 to 3 spots at the larger US corporate / cap markets groups in HK / China. Thus, we see a window of a few months later this year, when it will be relatively easier to land a lateral US associate position in HK / China, but this window will likely not be as long as the last hiring boom of late ’10 to mid ’11.

As always, please feel free to reach out to us at [email protected] with any questions or to simply discuss the Asia markets and / or your career in general. There is so much to consider before making a US to Asia move and it is never too early to start planing and gathering intelligence for such a potential future move. A move within Asia for US associates can be very strategic and it never hurts to have a lot of intelligence in the market before potentially starting such a job search as well. We look forward to hearing from you.