Hong Kong Legal Salary Survey 2017

/Hong Kong Legal Salary Survey 2017
Hong Kong Legal Salary Survey 20172017-05-25T07:18:14+00:00

Once again, the past year has seen a number of changes within the legal sector in Hong Kong and with those changes come the accompanying changes to salaries. Below is our breakdown of salaries for the Hong Kong legal market.

For more information, speak to Rob Green at r.green@grmsearch.com.

Legal (Hong Kong)


The response to our annual Legal Salary Survey has again been phenomenal: we had thousands of responses from professionals within the legal sector allowing us to provide you with the most accurate analysis of our survey.

Q&A with Rob Green (8 years in the Asia Legal Recruitment Market)

Review of Private Practice: 2016-2017

How has the legal job market been in Hong Kong since last year?

2016 was a tricky year, we didn’t see big growth in the law firm market, growth was steady, some firms left the market and others stagnated. That has improved in the first half of this year and we are expecting continued improvement for the rest of 2017 and into 2018. There are a few factors worth highlighting: –

  • IPO market in HK in 2017 showing excellent figures
  • In flows into HK at highest level for two decades
  • CNY fell at the end of Jan, rather than mid Feb as in 2016, meaning less lost time
  • Growth in in house counsel roles in 2016/17
  • Rise in China related disputes, leading to a growth in this sector of the job market

There is no doubt that mid to senior level lawyers have been in very high demand throughout the year – the lack of NQ’s taken on during the GFC means there is a dearth of volume in this space. The need for Chinese languages grows by the year.

Looking at the hires over the past year, how has the market evolved?

The biggest growth area we have seen is the rise of disputes/litigation with China related experience/client base/languages. Most of this hiring is being done at the international law firms and is probably stemming from the higher levels of outbound and inbound work the firms have been getting from Mainland clients in the previous few years.

Tell us about the salary and bonus patterns within private practice.

Private practice salaries across the board have seen salary increments ranging from five to ten percent. Of course, some firms will pay higher salaries to lawyers who they have hired from their competitors with the means to avoid the chance of the lawyer in question being counter-offered a better package.

Generally speaking, we have seen more of an increase in salaries offered to those at the junior end, as opposed to the senior end.

Bonuses ranged between zero to three months, depending on the firm and the practice area, with the majority of lawyers (95% of those surveyed) receiving bonuses this year, due to better firm performance.

Salary Guide


Active Areas

Which practice areas have been most active over the last year?

Last year and this year, the most active practice areas have no doubt been the corporate space – specifically, IPOs, M&A and PE and disputes/litigation, specifically with Mainland experience. We expect this to increase in 2018 as the markets become more entwined.

Have many new international firms moved into Hong Kong over the last year?

We’ve actually seen a few move out altogether, with a couple of high profile exits.

Plus, there is an obvious desire to move to bigger, yet more affordable property, with some firms moving out to the Quarry Bay area.

We expect this trend to continue.

Would you say that the Hong Kong market is still attractive as it was back in last year?

Absolutely. However, now more than ever, the demand for lawyers with the Chinese language skills is becoming essential.

With Hong Kong’s low tax rates and high potential growth in careers, we have found that more and more international lawyers are feeling almost inclined to work in Asia as opposed to places in Europe or the Americas. As a result, a substantial number of international moves have been within the APAC regions.

However, it should be noted it is actually becoming harder and harder for non-Chinese speaking lawyers to enter the market unless they are already in it, and in the Singapore market, it’s actually becoming harder to obtain a work permit.

Projections: 2017 – 2018.

Our projections for the rest of this year is that the more proactive and successful law firms will continue to hire mid-to-senior level associates in all practice areas.

However most of the talent, say 90%, that will be hired will have to speak/draft in Chinese. This creates a very limited talent pool and will either drive up the salaries or firms will have to be more creative with soft benefits and promoting their culture and flexible working solutions.

The rise of flexible working solutions

Firms are often not willing to break their salary bandings to get the talent they want, so how else are they going to compete?

The whole world now seems to have switched on to the fact that people want different things from their work place nowadays. They want to be able to balance a good home life with a good work experience, and to do this, employers have to be more willing to allow people to work from home, leave earlier, not work all night and all weekend. People have lives outside the workplace, they have families and they want to spend more time and have more balance.

2018 will continue to see firms rethink the way their lawyers work and this will continue to rise so that firms keep their top performers and stop losing them to competing firms or to in house roles.

Promotion Chances

Where are the best promotion opportunities for ambitious legal professionals?

With regards to promotion, we see a mix of internal growth and professionals moving for a promotion. Last year there was a trend of Associates moving firms for a quicker promotion to Counsel positions and Counsels moving for a more immediate promotion to Partnership, this has stayed stable this year.

More than promotions, we will see firms offer employees offering more competitive packages, more flexible working solutions to give them a better environment to achieve their career and personal goals in. Firms are becoming more supportive.

Is 2017 a good time to move jobs in private practice?

Yes – always.

But not just to get more money or better work, with firms being more flexible with working conditions, hours and sometimes allowing people to work from home – this can be found elsewhere if other firms are not offering it.

In-house – 2016 – 2017

How was the in-house legal market in 2016 and the early part of 2017?

The in-house market in Hong Kong has been very active, across a number of different sectors.

The appetite for lawyers to move from practice has increased slightly (according to our survey).

Which areas have been the most active over the past year?

The most active areas were for lawyers with either corporate/commercial experience, regulatory, derivatives, structured products, and funds.

Salary Guide

Salaries have not moved a great deal year on year.

Average Monthly Salary Range (in HKD)

What were bonuses like?

Depending on the level of seniority, bonuses were within the range of 1-4 months. To illustrate, on the more senior end, bonuses were between 3-6 months. Chinese financial institutions continued to pay more in bonuses.

Moving in-house is happening regularly; what can people expect in terms of salary when doing so?

When moving in-house, lawyers need to take a lot of different factors into careful consideration. For instance, lawyers often have to take a slight pay cut on their base salaries. Whilst not ideal, this is more often than not considered and overcome, as in-house opportunities tend to provide lawyers with an improved work/life balance.

In contrast, some banks tend to provide an increment to base salaries.

Projections: 2017-2018

Last year we predicted, for senior lawyers, that there would be a decrease in in-house opportunities for them, as companies look to cut costs and favour lawyers at the mid-level, namely those between 3-5PQE. This came true and we expect much of the same in the coming 12 months.

The markets have stabilized this year and we will see some increase in salaries but they will most likely stay flat with most financial institutions. Bonuses will also depend on general economic conditions.

For a confidential discussion about the job market contact our Group MD, Rob Green, on r.green@grmsearch.com