Hong Kong legal recruiters see talent shortage thanks to departures, but remain optimistic

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REUTERS/Bobby Yip

Hong Kong recruiters are bracing for a talent shortage as people leave, but they don’t see that as a problem for law firms, which they say can tap into plenty of local talent to fill the gap. deficit.

Hong Kong lost some 93,000 people in 2020, followed by another 23,000 in 2021. In 2022, departures appear to be accelerating, with around 53,000 people leaving Hong Kong in the first two weeks of March alone, according to the department. city ​​immigration.

Since the outbreak of COVID-19 in 2020, Hong Kong has adopted strict restrictions and restrictions to keep the virus at bay. These efforts, often in line with those in mainland China, have become a major driver of departures and explain why many graduates have chosen to seek employment elsewhere. Prior to May 2022, the government required a mandatory quarantine period of up to 14 days for anyone returning to Hong Kong.

This loss of talent is being keenly felt by recruitment firms like Ambition, which reported a 40% drop in applicants for entry-level positions compared to before the pandemic. David Roberts, CEO of executive search consultancy Carlyle Kingswood Global (CKG), acknowledges that there have been “some departures” among Hong Kong law firms. “We observe that the attrition has been both expats returning (or) looking to return home and Hong Kong lawyers moving (or looking to move to other jurisdictions,” he notes. .

Still, this has been a particularly busy year for CKG, Roberts says, despite the level of market uncertainty about what lies ahead and law firms taking a cautious approach to hiring. He adds that the departures were mainly at the intermediate and senior levels. “Junior attorneys focus on leveraging their skills to achieve side-market commercialization (if desired),” Roberts explains.

Although facing a general talent shortage, Roberts still believes that Hong Kong has enough talent resources given the nature of Hong Kong’s legal market.

“The nature of the Hong Kong legal market is such that there is a continued focus on Hong Kong admission, Chinese (Mandarin and Cantonese) proficiency and experience in dealing with PRC clients and there’s been more than enough local talent to fill that resource gap,” says Roberts.

Since the law firms are open to excellent foreign candidates with strong Chinese skills and a commitment to the region, he says the majority of positions are filled locally.

“This is the trend of the past decade. In addition to overseas lateral hires, we are seeing lawyers entering the Hong Kong market through internal transfer or secondment to the Hong Kong office notes Roberts.

Janet Chan, head of legal practice at Page Executive, a recruitment agency, echoes Roberts in saying that law firms have developed a stronger preference for local candidates because they are more stable and more likely to stay longer. long time.

Additionally, in a financial hub like Hong Kong, the most common areas of practice are corporate mergers and acquisitions, capital markets, litigation, finance, and funds in the immediate Hong Kong market. “There is a rich resource of legal talent in Hong Kong, and law firms have a wide selection of candidates in traditional practice areas at their disposal,” says Roberts.

Additionally, the law firms have positioned themselves competitively to attract top lawyers with Chinese language skills and relevant experience from other jurisdictions such as Singapore, Australia and the UK. new talents in Hong Kong.

To deal with the problem of talent drain, Roberts says there are generic payment systems and more flexible arrangements around quarantine. But generally speaking, he believes his law firm clients are competitive enough in terms of compensation, titles and diversity of work to ensure the right talent for their teams.

Meanwhile, the Hong Kong SAR government is also reviewing the mainland’s talent admission program to help bridge the talent gap. The government has recorded a 20% increase in the number of people entering Hong Kong for long-term employment under the general employment policy and admission program for mainland talents and professionals in 2021 compared to 2020.

Going forward, as COVID-related restrictions are lifted, law firms may have access to a wider pool of candidates as they seek to expand in Hong Kong, says Gareth Dowse, chief executive of the recruitment agency SD Legal.

“International law firms are still positive about Hong Kong’s position as an international business hub, and they are maintaining a good level of hiring,” says Dowse.

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