‘Heat Map’ of the Global Legal Market

Written by: Chadwick Nott
Published on: 6 Nov 2017

After a relatively slow 2016, things are starting to pick up in the international legal recruitment market. Below is a whistle stop tour of some of the world’s leading financial centres, which are often top of the list for relocating lawyers.


Hot Areas: Projects/ Construction/ Arbitration/ Capital Markets

Growth Areas: Private Client/ Corporate Crime/ TMT

Firms: International, Magic Circle and US firms are recruiting more aggressively this year whilst the mid-tier firms are generally quieter

PQE:  3-6yrs PQE, although more junior lawyers with corporate and capital markets experience will get traction

Language Skills: Rarely a prerequisite, although Mandarin will put you in good stead in a competitive market

Comment: Singapore is an expats dream (and for the foodies it’s the culinary capital of Asia, if not the world).  Big on entertainment, green spaces and nearby beaches, Singapore is top of the list for those in the know, particularly those with young families.  There are no restrictions on foreign qualified lawyers practising in Singapore, a key pull factor when compared to Hong Kong.

Good for: Projects, Finance and Corporate Associates who want to keep their skills sharp across a broad practice, TMT Associates chasing the next tech bubble and entrepreneurial Capital Market Associates wanting to stay ahead of the curve. 

How does it compare:  Singapore’s reputation as a leading legal centre holds sway across South East Asia and has been pulling in top tier talent out of London, the Middle East and Australia. Arguably, Singapore’s growth has been sluggish due to global economic headwinds, but with a surge of M&A deals flowing out of China, things are set to change.  

Hong Kong:

Hot Areas: Capital Markets/ Banking & Finance/ Litigation/ Regulatory

Growth Areas: Offshore law (Cayman, BVI, Bermuda in particular)/ Arbitration/ Funds

Firms: Magic Circle, US and In-House

PQE: Across the board including Partner level, but the sweet spot is generally 3-5yrs PQE

Language Skills: Mandarin and Cantonese at business level are key for most roles

Comment:  US and Magic Circle law firms compete for clients and top tier talent, which is reflected in their salaries.  Hong Kong is a fantastic playground for those who like to work hard/play hard and live life in the fast lane.  Certain restrictions still apply to foreign lawyers and firms. Whilst foreign lawyers and firms may practise the law of their home jurisdictions or that of a third country, they are subject to the Foreign Lawyers Practice Rules.  Hong Kong Law Firms enjoy preferential treatment, but to practise Hong Kong law, you must requalify.

Good for: Bi-lingual lawyers will do well in Hong Kong, but it is a competitive market so a robust attitude is essential. A long term view will help justify requalifying in order to command the best salaries at the best firms.  Hong Kong is a fantastic travel hub for those with an adventurous side.

How does it compare: The Hong Kong market has weathered the global slowdown in 2016 due to its strong client base in the People’s Republic of China (PRC).  This new wave of Chinese clients value language capabilities, internationalism and international best practice when it comes to the law.  However, it can be a tough market for firms to operate in which makes it a rather fluid job market.


Hot Areas:  Construction/ Projects/ Natural Resources/ Banking & Finance/ Corporate

Growth Areas: TMT/ Renewables

Firms: International/ Top Tier National (Magic Circle equivalent)

PQE: 3-5yrs PQE

Language Skills: N/A

Comment: Australia is fantastic place to live the elusive work/life balance.  It has a raft of top tier, internationally recognised national firms which undertake high quality cross-border work.  Experience gained in Australia can be effectively leveraged in numerous common law jurisdictions should you wish to move on.  The transition is particularly easy for those coming from the UK. However, there are discussions around visa requirements which means requalifying is now looking more and more likely.

Good for: Lawyers who don’t want to compromise on the quality of work but do want a better quality of life.   

How does it compare:  Australia is more and more on a par with London in terms of international deal flow and increasingly, in terms of pay.  The market has typically been biased towards Projects, Infrastructure and Construction. But as law firms seek out more clients in Asia, Finance and Corporate deals are on the up.

Middle East

Hot Areas: Finance (Islamic Finance in particular)/ Construction/ Energy/ Projects

Growth Areas: Renewables/ Litigation/ Arbitration

Firms: International/ Full Service Local

PQE: Across the board, but generally at the junior/mid-level

Language Skills: Arabic is an advantage but not a prerequisite

Comment: The UAE has always been a destination point for expat lawyers since the oil boom in the 80’s and it continues to offer fantastic lifestyle benefits, attractive salaries and international work.  Dubai and Abu Dhabi are effectively ring-fenced from the turmoil in the Middle East, but Qatar and Saudi Arabia are now under the international spotlight.  Lawyers do not need to requalify, although there is an increasing bias towards locally trained litigation associates and advocates.

Good for: Vanguard lawyers with strong business development skills who see potential in emerging markets, particularly Africa and Iran.

How does it compare:  With falling oil prices the market is recalibrating, boosted by the government’s ambitious renewable energy targets for 2020 which has seen considerable investment in solar energy.  No one dares whisper the word “recession”, but the market is definitely contracting evidenced by a number of high profile firms pulling out of Abu Dhabi, Oman and Qatar to consolidate their Dubai offering. 


Hot Areas: Corporate/ Finance/ Funds/ Litigation

Growth Areas: Real Estate

Firms: Pan-Office Magic Circle Equivalent

PQE: 3-5 yrs PQE but with increasing opportunity for NQ/1yr PQE lawyers

Language Skills: N/A although with an expanding Russian and Asian client base, Mandarin and Russian language skills could seal the deal

Comment: The Offshore market has started to shake off its turgid reputation as the leading law firms continue to go from strength to strength and step up their offering.  Often working alongside the Magic Circle, the Offshore market attracts the best legal minds.  Outdoorsy types who enjoy the finer things in life will quickly feel at home.  Lawyers do not need to requalify, but being called to the BVI Bar for example can be advantageous and is generally perceived as a rubber stamping exercise.