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 global health crisis has had an impact on the permanent (and to a lesser extent interim) jobs market globally.
The initial effect from mid-March until end of June was for clients to freeze almost all hiring. Some positions where recruitment had already begun, and occasional replacement hires were authorised but almost all brand-new growth positions were halted.
In recent weeks a limited confidence has returned along with a greater number of new legal roles being given the green light by law firms and corporates.
There are a group of lawyers that will always be interested in changing role at a given time irrespective of market conditions, these are called “active jobseekers”. This group has not appreciably decreased as a result of the health crisis. In addition to active jobseekers we have seen an increased number of lawyers keen to change role due to perceived vulnerability. These lawyers are either facing redundancy or the stability of their law firm/department or company is in jeopardy, they desire a new safer position.
In addition to these two main candidate groups there is a third typically passive group that has been keener to explore new positions. Some lawyers who have spent 12 weeks working from home have had time to reflect on their career and decided their future lies at a different law firm or company, these lawyers are usually too busy with day to day life for such machinations and very infrequently proactively apply for roles.
Fewer opportunities coupled with greater active candidate numbers mean possibly the greatest ROI on advertising spend in the history of LinkedIn or The Lawyer.
Real word example: A company advertising for a mid-level legal role late last year received under 10 applicants after 4 weeks posted on LinkedIn, they posted a very similar new position in late June 2020 and received 600+ applicants within 2 weeks.
Increased competition for fewer roles clearly benefits large corporations and law firms with fairly straightforward requirements and a developed HR function (capable of volume filtering CVs). As the cost of the hire falls (not much need for a recruiter in the above example), it keeps existing employees busy and, in some instances, allows for a higher calibre of candidate for the same budget.
Smaller to mid-sized businesses and law firms including those looking for a-typical positions are unlikely to benefit from these conditions. If the role is bespoke head hunting will still be required as the total number of qualified lawyers capable of undertaking the position would not be large enough to rely on active applicants alone. Additionally, the distraction of receiving lots of profiles many of which are not right for the role wastes time and is a major distraction for the hirer.
From a candidate perspective it is a tough time to be looking for a new position. Increased competition coupled with more of a volume feel to recruitment may invoke memories of applying for a training contract (for most no fun at all).
For 2020, who knows? Anyone claiming to predict what will happen next has little factual basis for doing so.
Hopefully there will be a continued recovery from the health issue coupled with increased market confidence meaning more hiring over time, incrementally redressing the balance of candidates to positions. The effect being more opportunity for lawyers seeking a new role and recruiters looking to place them as well as certainty for clients concerned about costs on balance sheets that all is well with their decision to hire.
Author: Ken Collins is a legal and compliance search partner with Greenway Collins covering the EMEA region from London.