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.
There is no glut in demand for lawyers who are looking at the impact of Brexit, at least not within the private sector and what opportunities exist are project based and impermanent in nature.
Brexit isn’t the only headwind the London jobs market is facing, we are amidst a storm of uncertainty globally, yet counterintuitively all has not ground to a halt. Most senior lawyers I speak with across sector feel well placed to deal with the outcome of a hard Brexit. There most definitely is still confidence within particular industries and legal hiring is still taking place in London at law firms and in house.
Why does it feel as though there are fewer new roles cropping up for lawyers?
Big multi-national banks based in London have been hugely impacted across the board in terms of new hires with legal also effected. Cost pressures on other large businesses which are not booming has restricted borderline hires where in a more optimistic market a green-light would have been given; moreover, lawyers as a group are typically conservative with risk.
Lawyers will be keener to opt for a “sure thing” rather than take a gamble on a business whose prospects are less certain. The top and bottom of the market are squeezing the middle in this way with many big corporates hiring fewer people and with lawyers less keen to join start-ups or smaller enterprises. The high performing middle that can shrug off Brexit uncertainty is still active but competition is fierce and clients are demanding more from hires in terms of technical expertise and exceptional character.
Law firms have not been immune to the uncertainty with generally less confidence in where work will take place and the prospect of a slowdown in some practice areas. US securities work for example handled almost exclusively out of London covering the European region faces the prospect of needing to reposition people to Paris or Frankfurt with many practices showing signs of slowing and assessing the situation before hiring or replacing.
The roles that are appealing and available to lawyers at present in London tend to be with organisations which have a good pipeline of business and/or are cash rich and able to exploit opportunities in turbulent markets for commercial gain.
In general, private practice and in-house roles for lawyers have reduced in London ahead of Brexit. When certainty and optimism does return along with a “risk on” mood I anticipate a lot of movement, disproportionately so within the legal market which is often overly tentative towards perceived adversity.
Author: Ken Collins is a legal and compliance search partner with Greenway Collins covering the EMEA region.