Slowdown in recovery is real, but optimism is ahead

The ripple effect of the Covid-19 pandemic on the economy and legal industry dominated 2021. We were happy to see legal hiring markets across the Asia Pacific rebound strongly in early 2021. However, the emergence of the Delta and Omicron variants saw a slowdown as we neared the end of the year.

That being said, Asia Pacific hiring markets remained relatively stable and only recorded a slight decrease (1%) compared to 2020. Australia, Hong Kong, and India grew, and Singapore remained at the same recruitment level. China is the only location that saw a significant drop.

Summer holidays, July to August, are traditionally a quiet time without significant moves. But, due to the lockdowns and travel restrictions, people stayed in their hometowns and worked as usual, and the number of hires in Q3 was the same as in Q2.

The most significant partner recruiters among international firms were Ashurst, Dentons, K&L Gates and White & Case, with Ashurst most actively hiring in Australia and Singapore.

Corporate practice is generally the busiest practice in the region and 2021 was no exception; Corporate hires constituted 30% of the key hires over the year. Also, Compliance/Regulatory/Risk and Projects/Construction/Infrastructure/Energy practices received significant growth in 2021.

Top Partner Recruiters in the Region

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  • The top 5 hiring firms were Ashurst (UK), Dentons (UK), IndusLaw (India), K&L Gates (US), and White & Case (US); they shared 13% of total key appointments in the region.
  • Breaking the mould was IndusLaw, the most active regional firm in our survey.
  • Most hires were in Corporate, Projects, Compliance, Restructuring, and Real Estate.

Appointments

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  • There was a 1% decrease in lateral hires in 2021 compared to 2020.
  • We witnessed a strong rebound in Q1 (up 64% compared to 2020) while Q2 remained equal to 2020.
  • However, the Covid-19 recurrence in the fall of 2021 accompanied a hiring decline in the region.
  • We observed a significant drop in Q4 (34% decrease compared to Q3 & Q2 and 50% down on Q1).

Locations 

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  • Australia, Hong Kong, and India saw growth in the number of key appointments compared to 2020 and Singapore more or less remained steady.
  • Despite a strong start in Q1 and Q2, China saw a substantial annual drop (52%) to 2020, especially in Q4.

Practices

  • In 2021, the top 5 hiring practices were Corporate/M&A/Capital Markets (1st), DR/Litigation/Arbitration/Crime (2nd), Projects/Construction/Infrastructure/Energy (3rd), IP/TMT (4th), and Compliance/Regulatory/Risk (5th).
  • Corporate/M&A/Capital Markets practices constituted 30% of the key hires in the 2021.
  • Compliance/Regulatory/Risk (5x) and Projects/Construction/Infrastructure/Energy (3x) received significant growth in 2021.
  • 31% of Projects/Construction/Infrastructure/Energy hires were made in Australia, 24% in Singapore and 18% in India.

Types

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  • Lateral hires dominated (83%) the partner appointments in 2021 and received a 5% increase compared to 2020.
  • We witnessed a growing tendency in lawyers rejoining former firms, going In-house and being part of team hire positions in 2021 compared to 2020.
  • By contrast, we saw a significant drop in internal promotions.

Published by Hughes Castell

Asia's Premier Firm for Global Legal, Compliance, Risk and Regulatory Executive Search

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