Asia Pacific Legal Market Summary And Partner Moves - December 2020


(As excerpted from our monthly Associate Newsletter - Asia Pacific)

Associate Newsletter – Asia Pacific is a monthly resource that reports current legal market news, trends, partner moves and active opportunities in the Asia Pacific legal markets.

Legal Market Summary


In early December Hong Kong began to experience a fourth wave of the coronavirus outbreak resulting in much stricter social distancing rules. Civil servants returned to working from home while most law firms continued to offer flexible working arrangement with lawyers working from home for the past few weeks.

As we approach the end of 2020, associate recruitment has slightly slowed. This is not unusual at this time of year as most US law firms end their financial year in December and many are presently involved with 2021 budget planning while UK law firms are cautiously planning their recruitment strategies for 2021. Recruiting processes that are presently open are expected to remain active through January. High utilization of current associates remains the key focus for firms, not additional hiring. Law firms believe most of the hiring for next year will be driven by replacement positions. But there will be some growth hiring, especially in the life sciences practices. 

Our forecast for the first half is 2021 is an increase in associate recruitment activity as the Hong Kong market begins its return to some normalcy.  


Recruitment activity has remained steady in Beijing and Shanghai in December. As a mark of positive market development, we have started to receive calls from clients, especially UK firms that have budgeted 2021 hires and have instructed us to start speaking with candidates for them. The practices that are presently in demand include corporate M&A, capital markets, finance and IP. Flowing from this, we anticipate an uptick in recruitment activities in first quarter of 2021.


As we head into the final minutes of 2020, the Singapore market continues to grow more confident and hiring managers are happy to have positive hiring conversations with HR again. Although hiring remains cautious, the pent-up demand caused by business stopping in March has seen a return of significant deal activity to most practice areas at year-end. There also is a discernably higher interest in a return to the office. 

The transactions sector has been particularly active these last few months, with both corporate and finance practice groups showing a strong finish to the calendar year. Our clients with well-developed regional finance teams, energy/infrastructure (development and finance) practices, and private equity offerings have been busy for the past 6 months and will finish the year well. Restructuring, disputes and regulatory practice groups are all recovering well too.

There is still a cautious approach from many given the rise in infections rates in Europe and the United States which, naturally, is a visceral distraction to HQ offices. But positive news about a vaccination has been well-received in the region. Geographically, South East Asian markets traditionally serviced from Singapore are beginning to see increases in activity – Vietnam and Thailand both have seen a busy month.

Raffles Place and MBFC are getting busier, while the restaurants and hawker centres seem to be running at full capacity again, especially at lunch time. And the road traffic and the fight for a Christmas tree shows us that clients are here for Christmas, but positive about the future!

We think most of our clients will be glad to see the end of 2020, surprised by their financial results, and looking forward to 2021!

SINGAPORE - Interim Legal

We anticipate that the first part of 2021 will be much like 2020. Most people are just coming out of recovery mode and there will be new issues arising that legal departments will have to handle: COVID lawsuits, WFH workers’ compensation suits, real estate lease negotiations and anticipation of what is to come.

Many companies that had hiring freezes in place have recently lifted them and are anxious to hire. Whilst legal departments are assessing budgets for 2021, it’s worth noting that many are considering hiring a contractor instead of a permanent headcount. Simultaneously, we see an increasing number of lawyers considering interim consulting as a viable option to permanent positions.


Despite ongoing COVID-19 concerns and precautions, law firms appear to be operating mostly business as usual in Korea. Recruitment remains slow, but there are some limited opportunities at major international and Korean law firms for highly qualified bilingual corporate and litigation associates.


While most lawyers are partially back in the office on an optional basis in Tokyo, there are still concerns about a resurgence of COVID-19 cases this winter. Despite the continuing uncertainty, there are quite a few associate-level recruiting efforts starting to move forward. This trend will likely continue to grow after bonus season. The in-house sector continues to be active, so it is a good time for lawyers looking to move in-house.


Recruitment activity across the Australian legal market remains relatively high with healthy levels of associate and senior associate recruitment occurring across a wide range of top-tier, global and mid-tier law firms. In particular, law firms in Melbourne are seeing a resurgence in recruitment activity as business levels increase post-lockdown.

As is usual during this time of the year in Australia, we expect recruitment across the private practice legal market to quiet down during the lead up to Christmas, with many law firms closing their doors until early January. We expect recruitment to pick up during the first week of February after summer school holidays have concluded.

Regarding the practice areas in demand, we continue to see heightened demand for corporate/M&A and dispute lawyers with 3–7 years’ PQE across a range of small and large firms, particularly in Sydney. There has also been a recent uptick in demand for competition and infrastructure lawyers. We expect demand for M&A lawyers to remain steady in and through the first quarter of 2021.

A remaining hindrance on the market is the inability of law firms to sponsor non-Australian lawyers. With Australia’s border remaining closed, foreign nationals and foreign-qualified lawyers must wait until travel bans are eased before Australian-based law firms can consider their applications.

Merry Christmas and best wishes for the New Year!


Partner Moves






Ed Sheremeta

Real Estate

DLA Piper

Ropes & Gray

Hong Kong

Daniel Abercromby

Private Equity

White & Case

Weil Gotshal

Hong Kong

Fan Yang

International Arbitration

Stephenson Harwood

King & Wood Mallesons

Hong Kong

Richard Lyons

Construction and Commercial Arbitration

Hill Dickinson

Arabtec LLC (Head of Legal)

Hong Kong

Becky Tai


Norton Rose Fulbright

Clifford Chance

Hong Kong

Du Kun

Dispute Resolution

Merits & Tree Law Firm

Beijing Intermediate Court


Kou Haixia


Broad & Bright Law Firm

Sunshine Intellectual Property Group


Li Quanhong

Commercial Dispute Resolution

Anli Partners

AllBright Law Offices


Nie Ming

Financial and Securities

Anli Partners

Mizuho Bank


Babita Ambekar





Jonathan Goacher


Hill Dickinson



Emmanuel Chua


Baker McKenzie Wong & Leow

Chevron (Corporate Counsel)


Cheryl Ng


ZICO Insights Law

Intelleigen Legal


Natalie Lonergan


Norton Rose Fulbright

Squire Patton Boggs


Tatiana Gotvig

Corporate and Projects

Norton Rose Fulbright

Squire Patton Boggs


Stephen Natoli


Norton Rose Fulbright

Holding Redlich


Vince Rogers

Workplace Relations

Lander & Rogers



Brett Solomon


Gilchrist Connell

Norton Rose Fulbright



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