Omicron wave slows Asian legal markets’ recovery

In January, firms and lawyers were full of hope, expecting a lively 2022 fueled by global liquidity, recovery from the pandemic, and growing opportunities in the tech and biotech industries. However, the Omicron surge in China, Hong Kong, India, Japan, and Korea slowed the recovery. Compared to Q1 2021, we witnessed a significant decline in recruitment activities in China. Only the Australian legal market shone in Q1.

Corporate/M&A/Capital Markets practices constituted the top senior recruitment hires in Q1. Projects/Construction/Infrastructure practices climbed to 2nd, overtaking Litigation/Disputes/Arbitration/Investigation practices. We also saw a rise in Energy & Resources practices in Australia.

The most significant partner recruiters for Q1 2022 were Ashurst and Herbert Smith Freehills. Ashurst has actively recruited in Australia and Herbert Smith Freehills in Australia and Singapore.

Top Partner Recruiters in the Region


  • There is 34% decrease in lateral hires in Q1 compared to 2021 despite Australia’s strong showing this year.
  • The significant hires are evenly spread over 3 months. Despite the Chinese New Year holidays and being a shorter month, February witnessed the most hires in Q1. 


  • Only Australia saw growth (27%) in the number of key appointments compared to 2021.
  • China and India saw a dramatic drop in 2022 due to the Omicron surge. Under the uncertainty of the pandemic, firms remained conservative in hiring.
  • Corporate/M&A/Capital Markets practices in Hong Kong remained active, therefore Hong Kong stayed the 2nd key location for lateral hires.


  • Corporate/M&A/Capital Markets practices constituted 20% of the key hires in Q1 of 2022. 
  • Unlike 2021 and 2020, there were only few hires in Litigation/Dispute Resolution/Arbitration/Investigations practices, but there was strong growth in Projects/Construction/Infrastructure practices.
  • Energy & Resources practice area has seen stable growth since 2021. All these hires were made in Australia.   


  • Lateral hires dominated the hiring markets in Q1.
  • We witnessed a growing tendency for senior lawyers to rejoin former firms. 
  • By contrast, we saw a gradual fall in Promotions. 

Published by Hughes Castell

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

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