According to the REC (Recruitment and Employment Confederation), the number of job vacancies is at its highest since 1998. The legal recruitment market across the country has mirrored this trend. As we approach the end of Covid restrictions, there are now huge volumes of permanent and temporary legal jobs available creating an exceptionally favourable market for lawyers looking for a change.
On a regional level, the North of England has seen the steepest increase in permanent hires of all the regions. However, conversely the supply of workers has dropped at the quickest rate in four years.
There are of course many reasons why someone may not want to consider a career move right now. It might be a lack of confidence in the economy, perhaps a loyalty to their current employer who looked after them during the pandemic or maybe working remotely away from a previously unhappy office atmosphere has made things more tolerable. There could also be a general fear and anxiety about the risks of the unknown, as nothing has seemed very certain for so long.
What many don’t realise however is that hiring employers including many law firms are adjusting their offerings rapidly to address these concerns and attract top talent. Here are a few examples…
Over the last 18 months the legal sector has been catapulted into a remote working position, which it likely would not have considered for another 5 to 10 years. Law firms like Irwin Mitchell, DAC Beachcroft and TLT have recently announced new policies surrounding flexibility for their staff, and the ability to decide for yourself where you prefer to work. Most others will be offering some form of hybrid working once they look to return to their offices after the summer.
We have also seen an increase in fully remote opportunities, which not only widens the potential talent pool for clients, but is providing lawyers with opportunities to work for firms that geographically were never an option before. It will be interesting to see how salaries are benchmarked for the increase of remote roles, as there will be no distinguishing between locations and the typical regional/City salary bandings.
Fee share/consultancy models are another option for lawyers. These firms have been leaders in the shift towards homeworking and have shown an industry traditionally resistant to change that new ways of working are possible in the law. These models are increasing in popularity as many lawyers want to take control of their work life, with the added financial incentive that comes with it.
More Law Firms to choose from
Market leading law firms are now considering candidates from a much wider range of firms. Solicitors from small firms are getting the opportunity to move up to a firm of greater size and better reputation. Given the growing awareness of the benefits created from having a diverse workforce, many law firms are proactively seeking more diverse applicant backgrounds than ever before. This makes it an ideal time to discuss the range of options available to you with a specialist legal recruiter like Chadwick Nott. You may well be surprised at how much your range of options has expanded over the last two years.
New Innovative Benefits
We are hearing from our broad client base about some new and never seen before benefits being introduced, that I am sure will soon start to be replicated across other firms. One example is London based Cooley who will reimburse up to £45,000 for fertility treatment and Clifford Chance who have recently announced fertility benefits worth up to £15,000 to support staff undergoing treatment, as well as partnering with Peppy, a digital healthcare and wellbeing platform supporting through menopause, fertility and parenthood. Professional services firm PwC (who has a legal arm) are offering extra days leave for such treatment. Linklaters are offering staff a £300 wellbeing allowance via an app, options include things like knitting, volunteering, yoga and sleep and meditation apps.
Many firms are rethinking their existing incentives, as some are outdated as a result of increased remote working, such as office gyms.
More Commitment to Work Life Balance and Well Being
We are still hearing from many frustrated lawyers ready to move because they feel their current firms are not investing quickly enough to grow headcount and as a result they are working longer hours, becoming increasingly disengaged and feeling unfulfilled as they start to miss client deadlines due to a lack of resource. Some of the hiring firms in the market have recognised this issue early and have committed to increasing critical mass not only to ensure client demands are met, but also to improve the work life balance and wellbeing of their current staff.
Put simply, the shortage in lawyers and the increased competition for strong legal talent is directly pushing up starting salaries. There have been well-publicised salary increases across the London market over the last 12 months with NQ salaries reaching as high as £100,000 at magic circle firms and £145,000 at US firms. As the demand continues to grow, we will see this trend across the regional centres also. Many City firms have been offering large sign-on bonuses particularly to mid-level lawyers, as there is so much demand at this level – there have been reports of figures anywhere between £20k and £50k. Relocation packages have also become more extravagant and have been reported to include £15k - £20k for quarantine hotel stays.
It is worth keeping in touch with your recruiter to monitor how quickly this will affect your practice area and your personal earning power.
Our advice to any law firms looking to recruit this year includes:
- Ensure you are paying market rate!
- If you can, compromise in your requirements, and consider whether retraining could be an option as this could assist in staff retention and the cost of making new hires.
- Candidates are looking for more flexibility – a mix of hybrid working is being asked for as a standard. There are some candidates who want fully remote roles so it is worth considering if this could work for you.
- Candidates are really looking at benefits, including holiday entitlement and pension contributions. Make sure you are able to articulate your full package.
- Speed of response is key! If you are not ready to recruit yet or the process is likely to be delayed - for example if you are going to be taking annual leave, then don’t advertise yet as you may need to be able to move quickly.
- After the events of 2020 there is a wariness of employers with a toxic work environment – while salary and flexibility are important, many candidates are seeking a culture where they will be happy and trusted. How firms dealt with the impact of the pandemic, redundancies, furlough etc all seem to be contributing to some candidates perceptions of a firm and its stability, so if you have a positive message to share about how you supported your staff, shout about it!
- Speak to your specialist legal recruiter about the market – we are here to assist you and are happy to discuss any roles.
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Iona is an experienced legal recruitment consultant with 8 years’ experience and has spent a large proportion of her life in Manchester.
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