The Aquis Search Marketing Team recently sat down with Associate Director Rob Joyce, who leads the UK Team’s Legal Division, to find out what employers are saying in the UK market and what changes we might see in 2019. Rob’s team predominantly work in the private practice side of the UK recruitment industry, but also across parts of the US too.
Firstly, give us an overview of the global market for legal roles and how that might be changing in 2019 and beyond.
As one of the leading legal hubs, London shares a unique position with New York and Hong Kong as being a place where demand for high quality talent is always strong and competition is always fierce. Germany has seen an increase in demand for roles and certainly amongst the employers we speak to on a daily basis it looks like it will continue to grow in strength as a European hub. Partially this is as global organisations look towards the impact of Brexit as they look to cover all aspects of their global footprint. But Germany alone isn’t an area where the legal private practice firms we speak to are looking to grow. The French market is also an area which employers are looking at, but whilst many are speculating that these areas may see some growth I do continue to see that the UK market will be in demand.
The key is talent. London and the UK has decades worth of talent that has built up and the support and infrastructure that is in place means that there will be a pool of people who have the relevant experience and knowledge to deliver for private practice law firms. And employers in the three ‘hubs’ mentioned are also working hard to demonstrate that they can remain a hotbed for talent as we go through the Brexit process and beyond in to 2020.
In London the growth areas are in finance, so private equity, funds, etc, but what we’re seeing is the migration of talent to the UK market – particularly from the US – and what we’re seeing from our client base is that there is still an appetite to invest in the UK market in relation to foreign investment. Real estate is also a big draw for foreign investment and naturally with businesses looking to invest in the UK, the need for top level talent from both private practice and in-house for support on legal and regulatory requirements, results in demand continuing to be strong.
So how strong is the market for the beginning of 2019?
Well that’s an interesting question but it is one which is difficult to answer because quite often the senior appointments we work on are delivered months in advance. So for some of the recent publicized announcements that you see of senior partners joining competitor firms, the deals can be done six months in advance, with restrictive covenant clauses ensuring that no publicity on such moves can be announced. Partners that I’m speaking to that have been looking to move have also told us that due to such due diligence from law firms the ability to take a whole team from one business and move in to another is becoming more difficult. That is because the demand for talent is so strong. Firms are conscious of losing senior talent, but they are very strong on ensuring that they don’t lose a whole team of people who add such important value to the business. In addition, law firms are realising that senior partners not only have an impact on retention levels of other staff, but they also have clients of their own that they could potentially lose out on as those businesses follow the partners to the new firm they join.
Are there any other changes in the market that you are seeing?
The rise of Artificial Intelligence (AI) is certainly becoming more prevalent and as we’ve also highlighted in a piece from Daniel in the UK Team, the need for individuals in the legal sector to adapt their own skills in line with this evolving market requirement. For example, where individuals were required to undertake document review in the past, this is becoming a process which can be automated, which means those who would traditionally undertake this work as a junior lawyer should look at firms where they can develop as lawyers at a faster pace (e.g. a law firm with smaller teams operating in their practice area).
So what type of skills should people in the market be looking for?
That really depends on where an individual is with their career. If you are in the earlier stages of your career progression as a junior lawyer, then working towards being a little more rounded and being able to take on a greater element of responsibility will make you more attractive to both private practice and in-house opportunities in future. If you are looking at pushing for Partner, however, then the value of somebody with very niche specialised skills is huge. The challenge law firms have is striking the balance between those individuals that are focused in niche sectors, therefore able to both attract and retain instructions from clients with their ever evolving businesses, but ensuring there is enough work for them to continue to maintain and grow market share and to be profitable.
Training lawyers in specific areas is something that many private practice firms are apprehensive over, instead looking to provide competitive salary and bonus rates to attract the best people, so we have certainly seen an increase in the ‘in-house’ positions. As an in-house lawyer the opportunities for training might be there, as well as the opportunity to train as a more ‘generalist’ across a few disciplines, but what you get in opportunities is countered by a lower salary and bonus scheme – generally speaking.