Life is always about choices and choices have to be made. We can always use hindsight to try and console ourselves when things go wrong, but we all have 20/20 hindsight!
In life, we can defer certain choices if we want to. However, rather like a Gantt chart in the construction process, we reach critical times where we have to make a decision before we can proceed to the next stage in life. Time and tides wait for nobody…doing nothing is simply not an option. On a personal note, my eldest daughter leaves primary school in 3 weeks’ time for the excitement of secondary school, and like all parents we had to make the decision of what school was the right place for her to progress her education. It’s a nerve-racking process, whether waiting for Council decisions or the school selection process, with parents often being more emotional and nervous than the child. School choices - whether it is state education or private education - unite in proving one thing amongst most people: nobody is that liberal when it comes to the education of their children…it is a case of using emotion rather than supposed liberal principles that rule the day for decisions on our children’s education - the heart rules the head!
The brings me on to the world of changing jobs that we all have to undertake at some stage to further our careers and steer them in the right direction. The Covid-19 pandemic has been an interesting one for the in-house legal market. In 2020, only critical hires were made and generally required significant layers of sign-off. From late January 2021, the market has been both buoyant and subdued, depending on your level and area of specialization. It is quite common for several candidates to have nothing for a few months and then receive multiple offers.
The mid-level solicitor/associate market in commercial and IT is currently suffering from a shortage of good lawyers throughout the country. After all, if you are in a secure position and able to progress your career, there is no need or drive to change, especially after the last 12 months of uncertainty. However, looking at opportunities in a position of strength is often a prudent option and a move at the optimum time can often accelerate careers by a number of years. Apart from sectors driven by consumer entertainment, the in-house market in most other sectors has seen hiring take place over the last year. IT and Financial Services have probably been the most active by some distance. We have seen a significant number of first time in-house lawyer appointments that offer unique opportunities to the selected candidates. June 2021 has even seen the return of some face-to-face and socially distanced interviews.
The Covid-19 pandemic has brought about huge changes in working practices for all and will ultimately accelerate the rate of structural change of office and commuting cultures, including the legal sector. Even before Covid-19 struck, Fridays were noticeably quieter and a seat on a commuter train could almost be guaranteed. Some large corporates had already imposed 2 days of compulsory home-working to limit office costs. The era of having your own desk and a set of drawers is rapidly entering the archives of history. Only C-Suite individuals will continue to have their own offices in the future. Covid-19 and the need for regular deep cleaning has placed a pause on this change. It is widely accepted that the 5 day per week commute is dead with most companies approach to flexible working evolving with a wait-and-see policy. A minimum of 1 day per week of working from home is going to be expected to have any hope of attracting talent, but Fridays at home are rapidly becoming the preserve of long-serving employees.
Attracting the best talent is fundamental to the success of every company. Currently, only start-ups are offering 5 days a week from home with the need to attend ad-hoc meetings. A further irreversible trend is the flexibility of access to the office. Several clients have advised me that candidates must be within 90-120 minutes of the office and the expectation is for 2/3 days per week in the office when normality (whatever shape that takes) returns. Geographical location is no longer going to be the barrier that it once was in the drive to secure the best talent. Access to decent train lines and road networks is going to be a key consideration in the future. Living in Bristol, Birmingham or Manchester and working 2/3 days per week in London may well become the accepted norm. Rapidly changing environments formed by the pandemic have created several unique one-off opportunities that were not previously available. It has been accepted that location is not a barrier to effectively fulfilling a role.
Interestingly, until now very few large companies have committed to a formal flexible working process other than to buy time with the general consensus that the policy is evolving based on Government directives. However, KPMG has just announced that from 1st October 2021, their employees will only have to be in the office 4 days per fortnight. This is an announcement that will send shockwaves through the rail industry in particular as a season ticket no longer needs to be purchased!!! Will other companies follow suit?
Moving jobs with only ever meeting your future colleagues over Zoom or Teams and never seeing the office has become the reality of 2021 during the pandemic. Many businesses have become skilled at remote recruitment and on-boarding, with many lawyers telling us how successful it has been. It is a matter of some debate as to whether those colleagues will be the same people when office life returns in some form. I believe that some form of office life will need to return to build working relationships with colleagues but how this will look remains to be seen.
It will be interesting where the trade-off between government policy and individual expectations (with respect to working from home vs the office) ends. The recent announcement of the introduction of a carnet of train tickets by Secretary of State for Transport, Grant Shapps, is a mere token gesture that forces individuals to become shift commuters by using 10 tickets in a working month. The cost saving compared to monthly season ticket is probably the cost of a couple of coffees! A month off from going into the office would then be needed to keep control of costs. If a high proportion of commuters only go into the office 2 days per week, we are looking at a total game changer in terms of the business models of train companies. Three days per week in the office, unless you become a shift worker, as outlined above, results in a season ticket still needing to be purchased. Two days a week results in a season ticket no longer being required and the beleaguered train companies revenue collapses to levels requiring yet more Government subsidies. The model of inflation + x percent increase every January will no longer guarantee the uplift in revenues from commuters who previously had no choice. But seismic change always accelerates the structural change within any industry.
The timing of our choices, whether by the head or the heart, will always shape our lives and our careers. I always advise anyone who is happy in a role to take a look at something that spurs any level of interest - it may well be that game changer. A good example is the CEO of GSK, Emma Walmsley, who had a chance lunch with GSK whilst very happy in a senior role at L'Oreal, according to a recent article in The Sunday Times.
Brian’s experience has principally been gained in London and the Home Counties; whilst mandates have additionally been executed for roles based in Luxembourg, Dubai, Oman, Saudi Arabia and Switzerland. Before working in recruitment, he worked as a graduate trainee at one of Britain’s largest private companies.
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