2019 / 2020 Legal Salary Guide

For lawyers in Singapore and Hong Kong's private practice and in-house market

By: Ethos BeathChapman's Legal practice

Form ID:1338


Singapore continues to be an attractive platform, both locally and internationally. International law firms tend to be on the lookout for strong corporate M&A / private equity, projects, FSReg as well as international arbitration lawyers. There has also been a couple of partner movements in these areas. 

On the disputes front, Singapore has strategically established itself as an international arbitration hub, and serves as an important centre for both the commerce and financial sectors. This is further strengthened by the country’s excellent geographical location (at the centre of Southeast Asia), making it an attractive platform for firms to set up their regional headquarters locally. With this development, international law firms are often on a lookout for mid-senior, common law qualified international arbitration lawyers, with a preference for the England and Wales qualification. 

In view of the evolving global and cross-border regulatory frameworks, firms have also developed their regulatory investigations and white-collar practice capabilities, where they advise clients on FCPA, compliance, investigations, anti-money laundering regulations, as well as data-privacy matters.

For the non-contentious practices, lawyers in demand are ones with strong cross border corporate M&A / private equity / venture capital experience, ideally coming with overseas experience. 

While Singapore’s legal market remains attractive, we note that lawyers, typically from the capital markets, finance, international funds, as well as corporate M&A / private equity / venture capital practices, tend to prefer gaining more exposure in jurisdictions like United Kingdom, China, Hong Kong, Australia, etc. in earlier stages of their careers (2-4 PQE). 

In Hong Kong, 2019 has proven to be another challenging year. Competition ramped up from both within and outside of the legal industry. The Big Four accounting firms have made inroads into the legal sector, making a couple of high-profile hires (from international law firms) within the year as part of their broader objectives of providing clients with multi-disciplinary services. 

The NQ hiring market remains relatively active. Trainees with financing, capital markets (both ECM and DCM) and funds experience tend to be actively sought after. For lateral hires, firms are generally open to considering overseas candidates with common law qualifications, particularly within the finance, capital markets, international funds and corporate M&A practices (as well as other non-contentious practices). However, Mandarin proficiency remains critical for hires.

Notwithstanding the current political landscape in Hong Kong, the private practice market here continues to be heavily influenced by workflow from China, particularly for the (equity) capital markets practice. 

Additionally, the new listing system launched by the Hong Kong Stock Exchange (HKEx) has attracted many new technology and biotech companies into the region. According to data consolidated by Thomson Reuters, the number of companies that had filed for listing on the HKEx has increased by 170% from previous year, overtaking the IPO volumes in New York.


Amidst Singapore’s strong local legal talent market, companies are preferring local hires. The next in line are lawyers with experience working in Singapore, and ones with the skills sought after by the Singapore market, such as project finance, cybersecurity, data privacy and captive finance banking.

In response to the Singaporean authorities’ plans to issue up to five virtual banking licenses, and major fintech players taking the opportunity to expand their businesses, we can expect an increased demand for lawyers with experience in payments and cash management, data privacy, cybersecurity, intellectual property. These specialists will be instrumental in ensuring that the new virtual banks comply with the existing regulatory framework that traditional banks are subject to, including regulations relating to anti-money laundering and counter terrorism financing. 

The growth in demand for data privacy and litigation lawyers seen in the past year is sustained in 2019, with businesses having much to think about regarding the GDPR and recent PDPA changes. 

Singapore’s status as trading hub has attracted MNCs setting up their commercial LNG teams in the country. With this, comes a trend of LNG (Trading & Projects) lawyers being hired here.

The economic landscape is robust in Singapore and corporations still respect the legal and compliance function; hence healthy budgets have been allocated for mid-level hires. Overall, Singapore is seen as a safe haven for conglomerates and MNCs, and the legal industry here continues to enjoy good growth.

The advent of virtual banking in Hong Kong will see demand increase for legal expertise in data privacy, cybersecurity, corporate governance, and capital markets.

The Hong Kong Monetary Authority has granted eight licenses to operate virtual banks this year, while the total number of licensed banks in Hong Kong has increased to 160. Although the number of virtual banks seems small in comparison, it must be noted that roughly 30 companies applied for a license to operate, supporting the idea that this new initiative will likely apply pressure on traditional banks to enhance and shore up their digital practices, which ultimately may lead to an increased demand for lawyers with the expertise in these same areas.

Hong Kong’s status as a global markets trading hub attracts FICC lawyers from London, Tokyo and Singapore. In other industries (retail, luxury and general commerce), the disruption caused by the Hong Kong protests have resulted in slower predicted growth for the coming year. The market  perception is this is a territory in turmoil with short term legal talent outflow in the last couple of months.

Despite some violence in protests, Hong Kong’s institutional reputation for the rule of law has not been undermined. The territory may take a while to rebuild its reputation as a safe haven for corporates. 

For more advice on legal salaries or recruitment in Asia, feel free to get in touch with Ethos BeathChapman.

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