Cast your mind back to the grey days of late March 2020; even as dark foreboding storm clouds hung low over the world some lawyers were still making moves in the London jobs market. Moreover, many of those moves stuck. I personally placed several lawyers amidst the depths of lockdown 1.0, they were virtually onboarded and thankfully are still doing well at their respective organisations now months later.
While some sectors such as IT have rebounded nicely in terms of hiring for the most part, there is still a glut of candidates and a lack of jobs (legal included). This supply-demand dichotomy may lead you to assume that it is easy to hire lawyers right now either for your law firm or company.
2020 has undoubtably brought many challenges, it has also driven change, particularly the en masse transition to working from home. Countless industries have adapted in impressive fashion and the legal profession in particular has been a standout success story in this regard. Traditionally slow to adopt change, the work from home (WFH) move has typified that lawyers aren’t just coping but are working more effectively than ever, here are some of the reasons why:
As a recruiter I wait a lot. I wait for clients deciding to hire, for candidates to consider an opportunity and for peers to update me on joint endeavours, this is my cost of doing business.
With the global health issue stealing the spotlight for 2020 I have found myself waiting more than ever. Fast food, iPhone apps and fibre internet came about because we want everything now.
At date of writing: mid-July 2020 there is a significantly greater supply of lawyers looking for new positions than there are open positions for them to transition into. Let’s look at why this is and consider the implications for the legal recruitment market from both a client and candidate perspective.
The majority of articles I read on the corona virus are written to promote a particular agenda, buy gold or another specified service, they paint an overly bleak or rosy picture and distort reality to serve their purpose.
The following is a brief (and hopefully balanced) assessment of where the business of hiring lawyers stands as or March 19th, 2020 in the London market:
Australia and the UK have a special relationship, we hold a number of shared values, speak the same language, are developed democratic countries that have both benefited from economic prosperity. While the typical middle-aged Brit with a family might move to Australia for a better quality of life and undeniably much nicer weather, a consistent stream of educated young Australians lawyers and business professionals move to London each year for the experience, access to a much bigger market and in most cases more money.
Australian lawyers have a wonderfully positive stereotype in the London legal market of being hard working and straightforward. As long as the legal sector stays active there will be a need for high calibre Australian lawyers within it.
As I sat in a plush west end hotel finishing the last remnants of a pot of green tea an interesting topic arose with the general counsel I was meeting; is the buy side all it’s cracked up to be? I work with GC’s from many sectors but am most ubiquitously in contact with those in the Hedge Fund, Private Equity, Asset Management, Family Office and Sovereign Wealth space. The contact I met had worked exceptionally hard over the last year and as a senior lawyer in house the assumption is typically that those types of days should disappear as you move from your 20s/30s into your 40s and beyond up the food chain, with the bulk of the transactional work remaining with your junior counterpart(s). It led me to unfamiliar conversational territory, why a lawyer might want to avoid working for a fund completely.
A cost centre is broadly defined as a department to which costs are allocated but that does not produce revenue for the business.
When a lawyer works in private practice as a fee earner they are revered as the money-making engine driving the machine forward, a definite profit centre. Lawyers here can point to their tangible contributions to the firm in the form of billable hours and attributable business wins/relationships. Congruently fee earning associates and more notably partners are held in high esteem and remunerated upon their evidenced contribution to the firm.
The phrases both profit and cost centre have questionable conceptual efficacy. Peter Drucker who originally coined the term profit centre later recanted, calling it "One of the biggest mistakes I have made". Asserting that there are only cost centres within a business, and “the only profit centre is a customer whose cheque hasn’t bounced”. Nonetheless the fear that hiring an in-house lawyer will cost your business money rather than saving it or even producing it is one which has stymied the growth of in-house legal teams for years.
As a newly qualified lawyer in London at a top city or US firm the amount you are earning is significantly higher than it would have been only a few short years ago. The US firm’s entry into the London market and their willingness to offer pay parity with New York coupled with the frankly terrible GBP to USD exchange rate in recent years has led to bumper pay days for those associates at the top US firms and started a war for top talent.
The magic circle, keen not to be left out decided this year that they were tired of losing some of the best of the Oxbridge crop to US firms over money and decided to close the gap, starting lawyers on £100,000 or more as soon as they qualify. When Bingham McCutchen first broke through the £100K barrier for NQs in around 2012/13 they were trailblazers, how was it economically viable for them?! many laughed at the prospect of junior lawyers being paid so handsomely. Things didn’t turn out so well for Bingham but no one is laughing anymore as the pay packet is now the standard for associates at top tier firms.
No matter whether you are remain or leave the vast majority of lawyers benefit from a growing, strong economy with plentiful opportunities. What is actually happening in the legal market and can largely be attributed to the Brexit phenomenon is tough to decipher through mixed jobs data and scaremongering headlines.
In 2016 when the referendum result was announced there were predictions that this would be a disaster for the economy at large but a boon time for lawyers who would be busy drafting and arguing about legislative changes, neither prediction was quite accurate (at least not yet). There are lawyers employed and finding work in house and within private practice helping particular businesses address the potential impact of Brexit, but these roles have in reality been far fewer in number than roles created to address GDPR or MiFID2.