Olga Yung is a regional director at Michael Page Hong Kong in charge of the legal, technology, and property & construction practices.
Will a bigger firm mean more legal work?
I am a mid-level law associate at a medium-sized firm, but I am worried about the low case load I have. Some of my other associate colleagues and I are becoming concerned that the senior partners are not actively developing new business. I’m at an important stage in my career development right now, and want to take on as much work as I can handle. Should I look for opportunities in a bigger firm, where there might be more business development? Or even at a boutique firm, where the work wouldn’t be spread so thin? How can I bulk up my portfolio?
A smaller case load can be an issue in some law firms, where there is a slower flow of work. While there are some candidates who enjoy the work-life balance, others who are more ambitious and keen to develop their career are deterred by the lack of legal work.
Your willingness to seek a new opportunity is a good step in the right direction. However, the solution to your conundrum may not be best solved by going to a bigger brand or a boutique firm, as a decreased market sentiment – observed since late 2015 – is likely still affecting the business flow of a number of firms, regardless of size.
When doing your research into potential employers, it is also important to assess which partner you will be working for. While the firm’s brand has an impact on the quality of its deals, the partners have an even larger impact on the volume of deals, or business transactions, acquired for the company.
You should use your connections to try to find out which firms and partners have a stronger deal flow. Your peers in the industry, in particular, can help you understand the deal flows and give you insight into the hours with the firm or partner they work for. Some law firms also share extensive deal lists on their websites under the partners’ profiles, though not every firm does this.
If you are keen to take up business development work, offshore law firms would be a good avenue to explore as they often expect their associates to do this sort of work and will provide them with the appropriate training. Such responsibilities are not as common in onshore law firms until a lawyer reaches the counsel level, because of a difference in marketing strategies.
In Hong Kong, junior to mid-level lawyers – especially those with extensive corporate, banking, funds and regulatory experience – are highly sought after in private practice. If your area of practice happens to lie in these areas, the chances are that it will be relatively easy for you to make a switch.
This article appeared in the Classified Post print edition as Will a bigger firm mean more legal work?