The Singapore In-house Market for Overseas Lawyers: What can you do to make the move?

Singapore’s strategic geographical location within Asia Pacific makes it popular as a regional hub for many multinationals including banks, financial institutions and corporates. Key management and leadership positions with regional remits are frequently based in Singapore.

Singapore is an English-speaking common law jurisdiction and lawyers qualified to the commonwealth jurisdictions such as the UK, Australia and New Zealand often find it easy to transition into private practice or in-house legal positions here. Coupled with its high standard of living, Singapore is an attractive location for internationally mobile foreign-qualified lawyers, who are keen to gain in-house experience with regional exposure.

Based on my eight years’ experience recruiting for the in-house legal market in Singapore, I’d like to share some insights on market developments I’ve seen and what overseas lawyers can do to facilitate a move to an in-house role in Singapore.

Challenges

The legal job market in Singapore has undergone changes in the past few years which makes it difficult for an overseas-based foreign candidate looking for a role in Singapore.

To begin with, the Singapore legal market is a highly competitive one with an existing pool of Singapore-qualified and foreign-qualified lawyers. As a first port of call, hiring managers often look for candidates already based in Singapore with prior in-house experience, or candidates from private practice who have had strong relevant regional experience. In addition, there is also a growing emphasis on recruitment, training and retention of local employees which is considered a more appropriate and sustainable longer term employment practice. This impacts the talent development and succession-planning policies of the employers. All the above pose increased challenges to hiring managers looking to relocate overseas candidates.

What can you do?

In spite of the challenges, there are a few things that overseas candidates can do to improve their chances of securing an in-house position in Singapore:

  • Consider available contract positions

While a contract position provides less certainty compared to a permanent position, it is a useful way to gain some relevant region experience and provide a first step into the door. Unfortunately, employers are often reluctant to sponsor work visas for short-term contract positions, so if you do come across roles which indicate flexibility on this do make it a point to enquire or make an application.

  • Internal Mobility

If you’re currently with a company that has presence in Singapore, do discuss the option of relocation to the Singapore office for professional development. Having gained some Asia experience under your belt, your experience would be deemed much more relevant and attractive to other employers. Often, employers are more inclined to consider candidates already based in Singapore as well, rather than having to bear the cost of relocation.

  • Recruiters

Whilst making applications directly or through your own network, do stay in contact with recruiters as well. Although hiring managers may often state their preference for Singapore-qualified lawyers, or foreign-qualified lawyers already based here; your recruiter may have the occasional role where the hiring manager has some flexibility due to the niche requirements of the role which may not have a ready pool of candidates available.

In addition, good recruiters will have built up strong working relationships with the human resources teams and hiring managers and will have a good understanding of their hiring needs, working culture and "fit”. You never know when an opportunity will arise where your recruiter can bridge that gap.

  • Networks

Make it a point to fully leverage your social and professional networks. If you’ve not had prior Asia Pacific in-house experience, it is more likely that a friend or professional contact is able to put you in touch with a hiring manager in Singapore.

Last but not least

As a start, keep abreast of available in-house opportunities on our Taylor Root website. I hope you also find the above suggestions to be helpful during your search for a Singapore-based in-house position.

The road to landing an in-house role in Singapore may be an arduous and challenging one. However, being resourceful, taking a proactive approach and a healthy amount of patience will go a long way throughout the search process.

If you’re currently based overseas, and keen on salary insights for the Singapore market, please feel free to get in touch.