This week we are issuing the first part of a special year-end report on lateral hiring trends in the legal market.
While our friends at some serious legal publications do their best to report on the legal market’s health by tracking such things as revenue per lawyer and profits per partner, here at Kinney Recruiting we like to focus our attention on a narrower information set. Not surprisingly, we concentrate on collecting data that illuminates hiring and employment trends among leading U.S. law firms.
We find this data incredibly helpful for providing advice to attorneys and law firms when they are considering making a move. No doubt, this report will be most interesting for partners and associates who are mulling over their options at the outset of the New Year. But even if you are happy with your current practice and have no interest in testing the waters, we think this report yields some interesting insights about overall trends in the legal market and should be of interest to practitioners and law firm managers alike. The data clearly shows that partner lateral hiring has become an important part of the management toolbox for the vast majority of big law firms in their pursuit of opportunity and growth.
We’re publishing the report in two parts. This week we’re focusing on lateral hiring trends for partners. Next week we’ll report on trends for associates and of-counsel.
Becoming a lawyer is no easy task. It takes years of hitting the books, late nights of studying through college and law school, followed by months of cramming for the bar exam. And then to actually land a good position in this weak job market – well it’s really no surprise that applications to law school have been in a steep decline ever since the market crash in 2008.
And sometimes the biggest challenge faced by an aspiring lawyer comes at the end of the process – after you’ve landed an interview for the job of your dreams and then you find yourself sitting across the desk, trying to have a conversation with a lawyer who is an exquisitely cold fish.
Let’s face it. Some lawyers are lacking in the social graces – small talk is often not a professional’s forte. And anyone who has interviewed with an old line firm like _____& ______ (fill in the blanks yourselves; we won’t because we probably work for them and have friends there) has surely run into a stuffed shirt or two along the way – an interviewer who seems glum or bored or distracted, bereft of personality and unable to do anything other than make you feel discouraged about your prospects. One friend of mine tells a story about interviewing with a Wall Street firm where the partner actually fell asleep five minutes into the interview, only to be woken several moments later, when the ash fell off the tip of his cigar – this being back in the day when you could still smoke a stogie in your corner office on Maiden Lane.
So as a service to all the job seekers out there this Holiday Season preparing for their next round of interviews, our team of Kinney recruiters has prepared a list of suggestions about what to do if by luck of the draw you end up sitting across from one of those painfully shy or rude partners, whether sleeping or aware, who is having a hard time holding up their end of the conversation. Here’s how to get your cold fish to start talking:
1. Of course with any interview your preparation should begin well before you’re ushered into the room. With a little advance research you can easily learn where your interviewer went to school, how long they’ve been with the firm and with any luck some additional info, such as where they’re from. You can also ask mutual acquaintances, such as a recruiter, or the person who set up the interview, for more insight. With your research complete, you’ll have a few good talking points to use when the conversation hits a lull, as it surely will.
2. When you step into their office take a quick look around. See if there’s a golf trophy, artwork or photos of their family on vacation that you can bring up casually in your conversation. Creating a personal connection is important in any interview but particularly when you’re dealing with a cold fish. One thing you can always count on is that someone with children loves those kids, whether he/she sees them very often or not.
The legal market is at a trigger point. That’s our sense of it here at Kinney Recruiting. And that’s why we’re making our prediction for this Holiday Season: this will be the first year since 2007 with a round of general associate salary increases at the world’s elite law firms.
It’s hard to believe, but for the entire current crop of associates – first through eighth years at Big Law firms across the country – there has never been one of those sweet little emails or envelopes from the Managing Partner bringing good tidings that the firm is raising the scale of base salaries for associates and providing positive fodder for the comments page at Above the Law. Ever since Simpson Thacher & Bartlett set the mark of $160,000 for first year associates in 2007 (read the original story) it has held in place as the top tick of the market. As legal-salary historians know, that move was generally copied by other firms, with various safety measures to prevent payment of top salaries to less “productive” team members.
But this year (or early next year – the 2007 salary hike was announced in January) we expect the wheel to turn again. Our basis for making this prediction is very simple, and even someone without our inside knowledge within the firms in question could make it. Just look at the numbers published by the American Lawyer, Above the Law and other trade journals, which show profits per partner (“PPP”) surging at the top tier firms, and take a look at associate salaries in percentage terms relative to those numbers. True enough, the financial recovery in the legal market has been uneven, with continuing softness and excess capacity in many segments. But after a few years of belt-tightening, as the deal economy has gradually come back to life, the top end of the legal market is doing better than ever – and then some. Take Cravath, for example, where PPP has bounced all the way back from the 2007 level of $3.3 million to $3,448,000 in 2013. The same is true at Sullivan & Cromwell and a handful of other top firms, where PPP now exceeds the pre-recession levels. But in the same time frame, the needle hasn’t moved on associate salaries.
Some folks seem to think that associate salaries are somehow correlated to geography or cost of living, but we’ve been around long enough to remember the way the elite firms play this game, and it has nothing to do with zip codes or inflation. For a handful of firms in New York this used to be a game of bragging rights when they showed up for campus interviews at Harvard and Yale.
Kinney Recruiting is pleased to announce the expansion of our services to the Chicago market. With the opening of our newest office, we are now providing legal recruiting services on the ground in the Windy City as well as Austin, Dallas, Frankfurt, Hong Kong, Houston, Miami, and New York. This strategic growth allows Kinney to further service some of our most important clients – many of whom call Chicago home, and to continue our standard operating procedure of keeping our ear close to the ground in every market we serve.
Our office in Chicago will be led by Chris Miller, who originally hails from the great state of Texas. Chris has been a licensed attorney for more than 18 years, with a particular expertise in the management of large scale e-discovery programs, both at national firms and in the operation of third-party vendors.
Last summer we were approached by our friends at Above the Law about the possibility of sponsoring their new law firm rankings. Since we know that lawyers (our target audience) are obsessed with seeing where they stand relative to their peers, it struck me as likely that the sponsorship would be valuable just from an “eyeballs” perspective. But nevertheless I was a little dubious at first about the value of such an undertaking. Is one more law firm ranking really necessary when we are already so well-endowed in this department by the American Lawyer and the National Law Journal, among others?
But after reviewing the research findings it became clear to me that Above the Law was on to something new and different in the way they were approaching the rankings. After all, the traditional approach to law firm ranking, pioneered by Steve Brill at the American Lawyer back in the 1980’s, focuses almost exclusively on questions of revenue and profitability, seeking to establish the law firm pecking order based on such fundamental metrics as total revenue and profits per partner. There is no doubt that this served a real purpose in the market initially, by exposing what had previously been very closely held information to the light of day.
If you are a US associate at a top US firm and contemplating a move from US to Asia or within Asia, your choice of recruiter / agent may have a great influence over your job search experience. There are three realities of selecting a recruiter that have the potential to greatly influence your career: First, the vast majority of recruiters who are calling you have the time to make those calls only because there is nothing else they really do and their contacts at firms are minimal at best, notwithstanding their convincing claims to have close relationships with various US partners at target firms in Asia. Second, most recruiters in the Asia markets (whether they are based in Asia, US or elsewhere) will send your resume to many more firms than you give them permission to contact. This type of behavior of recruiters is unfortunately common in the US markets too, but even more prevalent in the Asia markets. Third, many recruiters who are calling you with news of an opening at your level at one or more of the three most targeted and popular firms in HK / China for US associates are simply making up a story (maybe there actually is an opening at one of those firms, but they don’t care or know, they only know they have a better chance to get your resume if they talk about “openings” at your level at a particular firm or firms).
Against this backdrop consider that most recruiters covering the Asia markets have not made more than 10 placements of US associates in Asia in their lifetimes.
One of our law firm clients has referred us to one of their important clients in the US, Europe and China – a leading global technology supplier for the auto industry – in order to handle their search for a new Asia General Counsel and Asia Chief Compliance Officer.
Kinney is exclusively handling this in-house search.
This position will have a lot of responsibility and include supervision of eight attorneys underneath them in the China in-house team. The new hire will report directly to the global general counsel and global chief compliance officer, who is based in the US. The new hire’s ability to make judgement calls is going to be as important as their technical skill set background.
The position is based in Shanghai and will deal with the company’s operations all over Asia and also in India, including frequent acquisitions in the region.
It is expected that the new hire will come from a top US firm’s Shanghai, Beijing or Hong Kong offices, currently in a top flight corporate practice at the senior associate, counsel or junior partner level.
Mandarin fluency is strongly preferred.
Compensation package is at over $500,000 USD.
Please reach out to Evan Jowers at or if you are interested.
Please note that Evan Jowers and Robert Kinney are still in Hong Kong and will stay FOR THE REMAINDER OF THIS WEEK. We still have a handful of available slots for meetings with our Asia Chronicles fans. If we have not been in touch lately, reach out and let us know when we could meet! There is no need for an agenda at all. Most of our in-person meetings on these trips are with folks who understand that improving a legal practice through lateral hiring is an information-driven process that takes time to handle correctly.
Email to set up a meeting with us!
Regarding trends in lateral US associate hiring in Hong Kong, we of course keep much of what we know off of this blog. Based on placement revenue, though, Kinney is having one of our most successful years ever in Asia. We are helping a number of our law firm clients with M&A, fund formation, cap markets, project finance, FCPA and disputes openings. These are very specific needs in many cases, so a conversation with us before jumping in may be helpful. As always, we like to be sure to get the maximum number of interviews per submission, using a well-informed, highly targeted, and selective approach, taking into account short, medium and long-term career aims.
Things have changed recently in Korea – a few of our US and UK client firms are looking, very selectively, for a lateral US associate hire. Until just recently, there was not much hiring like this going on in Korea, since US and UK firms started opening offices there. We have already placed two US associates in Korea in the past month at top firms. Most of the hiring partners we work with in Korea do not actively work with other recruiters.
If you are a Korean fluent US associate in London, New York or another major US market, 2nd to 6th year, at a top 20 firm, with cap markets or M&A focus (or mix), or project finance background, and you are interested in lateraling to Korea to a top US or UK firm, please feel free to reach out to us at or . Our head of Asia, Evan Jowers, was just in Korea recently, and Evan and Robert Kinney will be in Korea in a few weeks. We are in the process of helping several firms open new offices in Korea (a number of which are interviewing our partner level candidates) and also helping existing offices there fill openings.
Even if you have no interest in moving to Korea any time soon, but just want to discuss the market in general and what we are predicting there for the next few years, feel free to reach out to us. Those are interesting conversations we always enjoy.
As most of our readers are probably already well aware, just about every major US firm in Hong Kong / China is interviewing and hiring US associates for at least one opening, in M&A or cap markets or a mix. Many firms have multiple such openings. There are also openings in FCPA / White Collar, project finance, and other areas.
The above is only newsworthy in that it is, as we predicted at Kinney earlier this year, a mini-boom hiring market in HK / China for US associates that started late August and will last at least two months.
It is during such a hiring boom that its going to be very helpful for you to speak with us and evaluate the best possible landing spots to consider in Hong Kong / China, according to your background, career and life goals, rather than simply finding a landing spot. The relationships that Evan Jowers and Robert Kinney have with just about any US hiring partner (including some who we have placed) of significance in Hong Kong / China, along with the many current and former US associates there (including many we have placed), give us the ability to help you make the most informed decision at various steps in the process. These steps include, but are not limited to – whether to simply transfer within your firm to or within Asia; how and when to request such a transfer; if targeting other firms, when and which to target; which hiring partners may have the better practice fit or be better mentors; and how and whether to negotiate on offers and counter offers.
We recommend you don’t consider a move or transfer to Asia or within Asia unless you know you can be fully informed going in to such a process.
Feel free to contact us at and we would be happy to discuss your Asia prospects with you, regardless of whether you want to start a job search any time soon. If you do speak with us and decide to start a job search, we won’t try to convince you to use our services and representation. That’s entirely up to you to ask for our help and representation.
We at Kinney Asia have made a number of FCPA / White Collar US associate placements in Hong Kong / China thus far in 2014. Most of such placements have been commercial litigation associates from major US markets, fluent in Mandarin, switching to FCPA / White Collar litigation. Some have already had FCPA experience, but those are difficult candidates for firms to find (this will change in coming years as US firms are now promoting FCPA / White Collar to their 2L summers who are fluent in Mandarin and have an interest in transferring to China at some point).
Legal Week quoted Kinney’s Head of Asia, Evan Jowers, extensively in the following relevant articlehere.
There is a new trend in the market, though, where mid-level transactional US associates, fluent in spoken Mandarin and written Chinese, are interviewing for and in some cases landing junior FCPA / White Collar spots in Hong Kong / China at very top tier US firms.
However, most such folks who apply for these positions are not getting interviews, much less offers, even when coming from peer firms. if you are interested in making this switch, and willing to take a year or two (or more) haircut, it will be important to be able to demonstrate an interest in litigation going back years (it’s understandable, for obvious reasons, that one with an eye on returning to HK / China and a preference for litigation over corporate would have in law school chosen corporate up until only a few years ago). It can be difficult to demonstrate such interest, but even the smallest hints, such as moot court competition or applying to a clerkship (but not following through) can help. Some PRC nationals may have had actual litigation experience as PRC attorneys before entering their JD program and that is obviously a big help. Other “switch” candidates have expressed to our Kinney team a desire to make such a switch for a year or more and that can be powerful evidence as well because we certainly will let hiring partners know.
If you want to maximize your chances to get FCPA / White Collar interviews, as a transactional switch candidate, or if you just want to learn more about potentially making such a switch, then we highly recommend that you reach out to our Evan Jowers at . Evan has been helping US transactional associates make this switch to FCPA / White Collar in HK / China for some time now. It’s not an easy switch to make, from the standpoint of getting interviews and offers, but it can be done. Evan has been working with a number of FCPA / White Collar hiring partners in Asia for years who count on our Kinney Asia team to staff their teams. He has also become quite familiar with this practice area, due to his interest in attending various FCPA seminars in both Asia and the US and his own white collar practice background during his in-house days.
Top tier firms with FCPA / White Collar junior associate openings in HK / China over the past few years have struggled to find native Chinese litigation junior associate candidates who meet their firms’ high standards of JD academics and firm pedigree. This is why a few of these hiring partners in HK / China are turning to outstanding transactional mid-levels who can demonstrate a long-time interest in litigation and a current interest in specifically FCPA / White Collar. These hiring partners are asking Kinney’s Asia team for such candidates and are counting on us at Kinney to screen a large number of transactional to litigation switch candidates and present a few who are most suited for the group, office and opening. We have been very successful in doing so, as all of our handful of transactional to FCPA switch candidates, those who we have actually submitted to top firms after screening them for our client firms, are getting interviews and we believe most or all will have offers this year.
If you would like more information on this or any other topic re the Asia markets, as always feel free to reach out to us , or.
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