Ed. note: The Asia Chronicles column is authored by Kinney Recruiting. Kinney has made more placements of U.S. associates, counsels and partners in Asia than any other recruiting firm in each of the past six years. You can reach them by email: email@example.com.
Deal flow has clearly picked recently up for most US associates, counsels and partners in Hong Kong/China and Singapore. We are on the phone with a lot of these folks on a daily basis, many of whom we have known for years. Further, the head of our Asia team, Evan Jowers, and Kinney’s founder and president, Robert Kinney, frequently meet in person with leading US partners in Asia to assess their needs and keep on top of the inside scoop at as many firms as possible. The need for legal recruiting help in Asia from experienced recruiters appears to be live and well. In March, Evan and Robert were in Beijing at such meetings, in April, Evan was in Hong Kong, and for half of June Evan will be in Shanghai and Hong Kong. Thus its pretty easy for us to tell when there has been an across-the-market pick up in capital markets and corporate work.
On an average day in Asia when Evan and Robert visit firms, they typically have 5 to 9 meetings a day, mostly with US partners in the market. The reason they have these meetings is not simply because Kinney makes a lot of US attorney placements in Asia and that a particular firm may have openings; instead these are just visits with friends. After years of working together as business partners, the folks at Kinney are actually these peoples’ friends. The firms Kinney work closely with in Asia (which is just about every law firm – call us if you want to know the one firm in the world we will never place anyone with again, ever, and why) look forward to the visits, or at least act like they do. After seven years in the market, many of the client partners are former associate candidates. Also, these US partners see Kinney as a very good source of market information as well, because they know how deep their contacts are in the market and how frequently they are speaking to counterparts at peer firms.
The first sign of a deal flow pick up, from the very low depths of 2012 (a very down year in Hong Kong/China) was around last November. There was a marked improvement in deal flow activity then, although it was still a mediocre market. Back in December 2012, there was some cautious optimism for boom times to perhaps return in the second half 2013, but during the first quarter of this year, while the market was improved over 2012, there was not a continued pick up in the market. Part of it was of course the double holiday season of western new year followed by Chinese new year, but that happens every year. The feeling in the market even as recently as one month ago was not very positive regarding the Hong Kong/China market making a big rebound in the second half 2013. However, in the past few weeks we have seen an across the board increase in deal flow, including at all the top US firms that are established in Hong Kong/China.
Late last year and earlier this year we already saw pretty good hiring activity for US associates in M&A in Asia. Now we are starting to see US capital markets hiring again. The larger US capital markets teams in Hong Kong are likely not going to need new hires for a while longer because they were overstaffed during the downturn (and also some of these firms added new HK local cap markets teams in the past couple of years which added to staffing sensitivities), but a number the smaller US cap markets teams are hiring again. We have seen steady M&A hiring in Hong Kong/China in the past 8 months and that is only increasing now. FCPA / White Collar is turning into a real source of hiring US associates in Hong Kong/China. We see this area continuing to grow for years to come and most firms with such a practice in the US will eventually have that practice on the ground in their Hong Kong/China offices. This is a long-term trend.
Just in the past couple of weeks, we have a number of new US associate openings in Hong Kong/China, including: 5 new openings in US capital markets; 4 new openings in PE / M&A or M&A; 2 new openings in FCPA / White Collar; and one new opening in project finance. We also have a couple of new US associate openings in Singapore this week.
If the Hong Kong/China markets continue to improve then it will be much easier for US partners there to get clearance to make lateral hires. We could see a pretty busy lateral hiring market in Hong Kong/China by late summer / fall.