IN SPITE of a global economic downturn, legal opportunities in China have remained strong and are providing a backup for lawyers who may have once set their sights on more traditional markets - such as London or New York - only to be disappointed by current prospects there.
"What is currently happening with the global economy has not really affected China except to the extent that the recruitment process may take slightly longer than usual at times," says Greg Plummer, a recruiter at Dolman Legal.
"At present Australian lawyers from the mid-level of experience upwards are the most in demand across a reasonably wide range of practice areas," he says.
There may be plenty of opportunities, but what if you're not yet up to advanced lessons in Mandarin and/or Cantonese? All is not lost if languages are just not your thing, Plummer says. Language skills are preferred, but not a must for finding work with a top international firm.
"Whether it is essential or not really depends on the nature of the role and the firm that is recruiting," he says.
Plummer believes that it is actually at a senior lawyer level that languages become a little more relevant, because of the need to make more contact with clients. But Rosemary Galic, a senior consultant at Mahlab, doesn't agree. Instead, Galic says that at the junior level languages are essential, but more experienced lawyers may be able to get away with English alone due to shortages of talent.
For Mahlab, a pick-up in work has been obvious in just the past 12 months. "We've seen an increase in the volume of work available for Australian and New Zealand lawyers and the areas of interest have been from private equity funds in China and South-East Asia, as well as infrastructure and energy related projects," says Galic.
The growth of opportunities can be attributed, in part, to international companies shifting their head offices in the direction of mainland China to be closer to the consumer market and far from the burden of economic boom and bust cycles that entangle Hong Kong.
"We've seen a number of international firms cropping up in Shanghai and Beijing and as a result, creating new opportunities for Australian lawyers that traditionally just would not have been there," says Galic.
And different areas of opportunity reside in the very different cities of China. Plummer says that in Beijing prime areas include corporate, real estate, finance, derivatives, structured finance, anti-trust, competition and trade. In Shanghai, it's similar but booming with infrastructure, construction, structured finance and project finance.
Meanwhile, in Hong Kong corporate insolvency, restructuring and litigation are running hot, alongside project finance, equity capital markets, corporate energy, US securities, construction and real estate.
And from China, it appears, a lawyer can go on to make it anywhere. "We often see lawyers moving from one office to another - to the UK or the US, depending on the state of the market," says Galic.
With an economy tipped to overtake the United States by 2050, where else would you need to go to make it?
- Angela Priestley