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US Law Firms in China Enjoy Competitive Edge Because They Pay Better
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As expressed by Simon Wiggs from Major, Lindsey & Africa, one of the better known legal recruitment firms in Hong Kong, “When you are working until the small hours of the morning and you realize your peer who is also doing the same work some levels up in the same building is getting paid double what you’re getting, you are going to think about that….”

While until now, Hong Kong had acted as a gateway to China with international litigation dominated by large British law firms, the scene is changing drastically. US law firms with smaller presence are carrying a bigger punch as they continue to draw in the top talent.


Recruiters are of the opinion that the talent drain in favor of US law firms is visible and potent, established British Law Firms who continue to be employer brands express lack of concern.

Over the last two years, big American law firms have been entering Asia, and contrary to locally popular practice, they have not been paying discriminatory rates to their Asian Associates, but maintaining the American brand of fair pay for all across the same organization.

This gives new associates in Hong Kong, who have been fortunate enough to bag positions with good US law firms, a starting salary about 75% more than that of a lawyer in a British firm in Hong Kong.

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That, of course, means the talented and hardworking are making a beeline for US Law Firms, and there is a unilateral talent drain in the local market. Competing international law firms from many other nations are seeing red for such practices are cutting into their pockets and power.

In the market, Magic Circle firms which dominated the legal scene in Hong Kong from the time it was a British colony still matter as brands to sport on associate resumes. However, the strategy followed by US law firms to pay in the same scale as that of New York associates is building an image of fair dealing that is hard to ignore. While individual British firms may still hold brand value to new associates, as a collective, US law firms have come to represent better pay and by extension better respect for talent and skills.

Many of the American firms, counting Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton, and Simpson Thacher & Bartlett, have paid all their associates across the world “New York scale” salaries beginning at $160,000 for fresh entrants. Until now, most international firms maintained different pay scales for U.S., U.K., and Hong Kong lawyers and the moves by US law firms can well precipitate a salary war to maintain turfs in Hong Kong and China.


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