Working in HK: Finding a (Law) Job!

The Chinese New Year is at its end, and this means two things – most folks in Hong Kong will have received their year-end bonuses, and headhunters will be a-calling!  Hong Kong still seems to be a place of opportunity – the three-month period ending December 31, 2011 unemployment rate for Hong Kong appears to be a low low 3.3%, and from my own anecdotal experience, I don’t see people unemployed for long in Hong Kong.  Plus, I’m not the only one I’ve known who has arrived in Hong Kong unemployed with limited connections and resources, but lucky to emerge at some point later with a steady paycheck. 

In a past post, I promised to write on the topic of job searching, noting that some readers might find it interesting.  Below, I will share some of the avenues I explored in the two years leading to me finding my current job, which, as I’ve mentioned enough times, I really love.  But please take note, my search was oriented for someone with a law degree and mid-level experience.

Headhunters (or Recruiters for the More PC)
At times Hong Kong feels absolutely saturated with recruiters.  There is even a free circulation handed out periodically on job hunting, most likely funded by loads of ads from such headhunters.  The thing with Hong Kong is that job hopping isn’t looked down upon as it is in the U.S., and with so many switching jobs even in under a year’s time just to make a better dollar (or even to get a better gym membership) at another outfit, headhunters stand to make good money on this constant revolving door of hires.

The problem is that given such a job-seekers market, headhunters don’t need to be particularly skillful, or socially conscious.  Within a month of my joining my current firm, a headhunter cold-called me to see if I wanted to look at options — why on earth would that make any sense?  Clearly this guy didn’t do any diligence except comb the internet for potential candidates without doing any careful reading!

The better headhunters tend to look for “easy” hires only, so when I was not as marketable as I am today, few quality headhunters gave me a moment of their time.  But I will admit that I’ve met at least 1 headhunter that took the time to get to know me and think about possible placements that would suit me through thick and thin – so it exists.  Generally, though I don’t recommend the headhunter route too much.

Networking does work, and especially in Hong Kong where the interconnectivity of people, particularly people with influence, is so great given how small the community is.  Indeed, that is how I found my first job — a friend from New York mentioned having worked with a lawyer who moved to Hong Kong, whose husband had a litigation background.  I reached out, and we met for more of an “informational interview,” and then a few months later, on following up just to catch up, he brought me my last opportunity.

When I first came to Hong Kong, I was just trying to find anyone who would meet with me.  I found people from my personal networks, alumni networks, even through people I’d just meet.  Hong Kong expats are incredibly friendly and alwayas happy to help.  Given how small the community is, giving to others is how you get, so don’t be shy.

There are also numerous regular networking events in Hong Kong, since the market is so hungry for better jobs on a regular basis.  There’s “Thirsty Thursdays” and many other similar events linked in with bars or clubs — whether attendees are looking for jobs or dates may be unclear, but you will find lots of name cards being exchanged at such events.  So if you are unemployed, you should consider making up some cards — they are very cheap in Hong Kong (just check out any of the stands over by that alley across from Wing On).

Online Networking
This is not a paid plug, but I honestly found LinkedIn to be extremely useful.  Again, due to the high volume of jobs in Hong Kong, professional networking online takes another level for groups associated with Hong Kong.  With a fairly informative profile, I found lots of headhunters requesting to connect, including the in-house recruiter for a large international insurance company.  And while I warn that headhunters aren’t the most useful, they post job requests on LinkedIn feeds frequently.  Also there are many LinkedIn groups that do the same, and are also very useful to join to get an idea of what jobs are floating around out there.

Answering Ads
The Law Society regularly posts a weekly circular where job ads, complete with employer names and requirements (unlike those posted by headhunters), are posted.  If you aren’t a member of the Law Society already, ask any registered foreign lawyer or solicitor if they can forward these to you.  I ended up answering many of these ads myself, and found a decent level of interest from this platform.  Whoever says that firms don’t read these job applications was wrong – they do and they are interested in avoiding paying headhunters’ fees!

There are also quite a few good websites in HK that you can look at to find relevant jobs:

–  JobsDB posts just about any kind of job (from tea lady to corporate counsel)

eFinancialCareers does have a finance bend to it, but if you’re interested in compliance, and other bank-based jobs, this is also a good spot

CQrecruit is a site where law firms directly post and can post interest in your resume – kind of like the of law jobs in Hong Kong.  I’ve gotten a few pings here and interviews too, though it will have more “local” jobs.  The big firms also post here (I’ve seen posts from large US and UK law firms).

Also be sure to troll law firm websites.  Though not as common among the US sites, UK firms tend to post their vacancies.  Either way, it never hurts to take a look.

These are all resources I employed when looking to be employed, and I got bites from each of these avenues!  For anyone looking to find a new job in Hong Kong – best of luck! My advice is to stay diligent and just go for it!


9 responses to “Working in HK: Finding a (Law) Job!

  1. I think the all the points mentioned above are important, but in my opinion Networking, once there obviously, must be one of the best things someone can do, as they say is not about what you know but who you know, so meeting and talking to people could really make a difference.

    • Yes – I agree, and in Hong Kong it is so much easier than in other places (imo). People are incredibly friendly and willing to help; and since the island is so small, you will run into a lot of (important) people on ar egular basis.

  2. I read a few of your posts and found it to be very insightful. I understand that you worked as a lawyer in Hong Kong and I’d like to seek your opinion on something.

    I’m currently doing a JD in Hong Kong. I want to become a lawyer in Hong Kong, but I grew up overseas, and so my Chinese is limited (and has thus far made my job hunt so much harder). From your experience, would this necessarily bar me from a lot of the Biglaw/city firms in Hong Kong? If so, would going to the US, doing an LLM (my grades are good enough to get me into a top 10 school) and getting NY qualified be a better route to take?

    Thanks in advance!

    • I should add that I’ve read your previous posts about the requirement of Chinese language as well, but as they were made ~3 years ago, I thought your answer might be different now.

      • hi YCL. Thanks for your comments and your interesting questions. One question I’d ask you before answering (perhaps in a separate post – thanks for the inspiration) – do you have any idea what kind of law you want to do? Do you know if you’re inclined to become a barrister vs a solicitor? Do you think you know enough about law practice to say whether you’d prefer litigation over corporate? Are there any special practice areas you’re interested in (eg, trusts & estates, intellectual property, etc.)? Have you done any internships yet to get some idea?

      • At the moment I’m determined on going into commercial law. I’ve done some internships with international law firms in the past, and I know I want to be a solicitor. I would say that I’m more interested in litigation, particularly financial regulatory work. However, I’m also open to other areas that commercial law firms usually do – I feel it’s too early in my career to set my mind on a single practice area.

        If you wouldn’t mind, it’d be great if we could continue this conversation over email ( Thank you again!

  3. OK, I guess when you say “commercial” you mean civil and not criminal, and that you are interested in litigation vs corporate. Got it. I’ll try to write a post online about my thoughts on this for you some time soon.

  4. Hi, I actually have a similar question. I am a non-Chinese westerner thinking of applying for a JD program in HK and practice law there. I can speak, read and write with no problems in Mandarin though as I’ve been living in Mainland China for 6 years.

    My question would actually be similar to YCL although add that I can communicate in Mandarin. I’m just worried that since there are lots of Mainland Chinese students also studying in HK, the competition would be fierce.

    Can I get your opinions about it? 🙂

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