In-house recruitment trends

Camilla Worthington and Chris Chu of Lewis Sanders discuss how Covid-19 has affected hiring in Hong Kong.

Camilla Worthington

How has the impact of the coronavirus affected in-house hiring in Hong Kong?
Needless to say, 2020 has been a difficult year for Hong Kong. The combined effects of the city-wide protests in the latter half of 2019, the China-US trade war and the Covid-19 situation have led many to assume by default that it has been a tough 12 months for the in-house recruitment market.

However, while the in-house market certainly is not immune to these events, we have seen that legal and compliance teams to date have been relatively insulated from their effects compared with other professions and sectors. We are not currently aware of any significant in-house legal and compliance redundancies as a result of the current economic climate and cases of salary discounts and reduced work weeks affecting this group have also been rare. In fact, a number of new vacancies across the market arose after the peak of the protests and we also have new mandates since Covid-19 became a global issue. While the majority of these are replacement roles, some of them are actually new headcounts.

In-house legal and compliance are typically deemed essential functions in any market by businesses looking to maintain long term success. Although companies will invariably look for ways to reduce costs in the current market, some of them take the view that having these functions in-house will actually be more cost-effective than having to engage external lawyers and service providers. These factors have contributed to the resilience of this sector.

Chris Chu

How does this compare to what is happening in relation to hiring in law firms?
Hiring in law firms has unfortunately been slower than normal with the private practice market being dominated with news of salary freezes, unpaid leave, delayed bonuses, redundancies and even a few firms exiting the Hong Kong market. This is not unique to Hong Kong and has resulted from decisions being made at a global level, out of headquarters primarily located in the US and the UK. If law firms have seen resignations, in the majority of cases they have not replaced them and are waiting to see how the market bounces back.

It is hoped that as we now enter the second half of 2020 the feeling in Hong Kong will start to shift to one of optimism and while it is unlikely that there will be a significant increase in hiring needs until late 2020/early 2021 workflows do appear to be moving in the right direction. A number of law firms are now starting to look at where they will need to make additional hires to ensure that clients expectations are met.

We understand that where hiring is continuing a lot of interviews are now happening by video link — what tips would you give to candidates who are faced with this situation?
You are correct; there has been a significant increase in the number of interviews taking place via video conference over the past six months. For many candidates this is their first experience of this and naturally can be quite daunting. Here are a few tips to ensure it runs smoothly:

  1. Test your technology: Ensure your device is fulling charged, test the internet speed/reception, prepare a plan B (ie, phone call) in case video calling does not work.
  2. Dress as you would for an in-person interview: Giving a good impression is crucial. Wearing solid colours rather than patterns works better on camera.
  3. Choose a distraction free location: Find a well-lit, quiet and clutter-free background area.
  4. Maintain eye contact: You need to ensure you look into the camera rather that at the interviewers on screen. Don’t forget to engage with the interviewer and nod and smile when it is appropriate.
  5. Project and pause: Speak loudly and clearly so that your interviewer doesn’t have to strain to hear you. Maintain a few seconds pause before giving your answer in case the video delays.
  6. Close the interview: When the interview ends don’t forget to close by thanking the interviewer for the opportunity.

Are there any sectors where you expect an increase in hiring as a result of the current situation?
In many areas of law, clients have been quick to seek counsel on the likely impact of Covid-19 on their businesses and this has generated new work for lawyers. This ranges from employment advice, real estate concerns and banking queries around loan repayment obligations and restructuring of debt. Disputes around commercial contracts are also on the rise.

A bright spot in the banking sector is the emergence of virtual banks, with the HKMA’s announcement in 2019 that it had handed out licences to eight entities. We have already seen recruitment activity in this space as these licensees look to build up their legal, compliance and company secretarial functions in time for their official launches. This is a trend that should continue going forward.

What long-term changes do you think we are likely to see to the workplace as to how lawyers operate?
During this unusual time the vast majority of employees in the in-house legal and compliance space and within law firms have been working from home. Traditionally, Hong Kong has been slow in adapting more flexible and creative workplace solutions compared to other major cities, but if employers take the view that recent work from home arrangements have been successful, we can expect to see more of this going forward, especially given the ever-increasing price of office space here.

Further, the trend for in-house teams employing legal and compliance professionals on a contract basis will continue, especially at a time where workforce flexibility and simpler approval processes are a priority for many businesses.

Camilla Worthington is a managing director at Lewis Sanders working with lawyers at associate, counsel and partner level. She has successfully placed lawyers into both in-house and private practice teams across the region, building long-term relationships with both clients and candidates.
E:  [email protected]

Chris Chu is a director at Lewis Sanders working with candidates and clients across both private practice and in-house recruitment, with a focus on financial services and funds in China and Hong Kong since 2011.
E:  [email protected]


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