2018 Legal Salary Guide

Natalie Limerick 04.01.2018

2018 salary guides containing permanent and contract rates for legal roles in London.

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Commentary on Legal Roles and Remuneration in United Kingdom for 2018


Within in house legal jobs, we have seen a year on year increase of 25% in job volumes comparing 2017 to 2016. This exponential growth experienced was no surprise given the large regulatory reform and change initiatives.

Businesses have become more reliant and open to utilising a flexible workforce in areas such as derivatives, data privacy and MiFID II. Due to the increased recruitment in these areas, this has created a shortage of skilled and experienced legal professionals in the market. Law firms continue to hire, however it is not at the same rate as previous years. A cautious approach remains for most lawyers looking at the market, ensuring the war on talent remains. A number of startups, Fintech and IT companies brought in their first legal counsel in 2017 and the rise of the accountancy firm legal teams saw an increase over the year.

Positive  & negative news

2017 was a year where regulator hiring was a key theme, particularly in GDPR, ISDA and MiFID II. Competition for experienced lawyers in these areas has been fierce, particularly in banking. Due to a skills shortage, contractors have been able to command increased remuneration. Given the high daily rates on offer, there has been a significant incentive to permanent staff, tempting them to make the move to contracting. This has created vacancies as managers look to backfill, as an example, Morgan McKinley placed a VP privacy lawyer at a custodian and this individual increased their rate by 38% compared to their previous salary.  

Whilst we have experienced growth, this has come at a cost, as lower level roles being near and offshored with the reasons ranging mostly from economic factors such as lower staffing costs and rent. For instance, we have seen increased training of ISDA candidates based in North-East England, Scotland, Belfast, Poland and Hungary. While this is good for those regions, this has made it more challenging for those entering the legal market to find roles in London. Permanent salaries have remained stable with little movement in 2017; in demand skill sets and niche skills will continue to drive a premium. 

Key hiring areas remain within real estate, banking and finance as well as litigation, but we have also seen corporate, technology and taxation offer strong career moves, alongside the drive for talented commercial lawyers to fill in house legal jobs. The rise of the virtual law firm and career of a contract lawyer remains in growth, as many firms look to build out their own offering to the market, coupled with the shortage in permanent movers providing space for coverage. 

Qualities and skills in demand

With the variation margin deadline looming, the first half of 2017 was phenomenally busy for both the contract and permanent ISDA marketplace. While hiring did somewhat decrease, the demand for experienced ISDA negotiators remained strong within the market. Many candidates in the market have experience working within documentation teams, however, a small minority have experience physically negotiating ISDA’s. Within this group are a smaller number of candidates who are qualified lawyers. 

The skills associated with that of an experienced negotiator continue to be niche. Hiring managers need to be aware of market conditions and be open to the possibility of recruiting eager and bright ISDA paralegals and training them to become negotiators. The company secretarial space has maintained a strong flow of activity within 2017. Senior company secretaries seem to be moving more into the regulatory side of  the specialism and as a result we are experiencing higher levels of recruitment for junior company secretaries to support the governance teams. It is seen that the focus in the market is the continuing need to find the highest calibre candidates, who are always in high demand. It has also been seen to be more and more prevalent that the intended candidate would be ACIS qualified. 

With March 2018 fast looming, GDPR has been an extremely busy area since January 2017, when companies ramped up hiring. Ultimately this has meant it's been a candidate short market. Post March 2018, it will be necessary for businesses to keep data privacy specialists on site, however, the need for multiple project specialists will decrease. Many organisations looking to fill in house legal jobs for the first time will be focused on securing a broader/generic technical background coupled with a commercial approach, which is key to secure these attractive roles. MD’s & COO’s are seeking more lawyers to have the business acumen to make decisions and solve problems. Law firms will continue to address ways to attract top talent, as convincing job seekers to move for similar positions will be more difficult during these cautionary times.  

Outside of work

In order to achieve progression, roles in governance and company secretariat require ACIS qualifications which are fundamental with most companies requiring this as a prerequisite for most roles and opportunities. Derivatives and ISDA have been a growth area for legal, therefore individuals looking to increase their rate have to go from reviewing and extracting derivative information, to negotiating and managing an ISDA agreement from start to finish. Ultimately, the best way to make the step up from drafting to negotiating is to have hands on experience in a role. 

From a corporate perspective, we have witnessed a number of businesses, in particularly large investment banks that are demanding solicitors who are qualified in the UK or Commonwealth. For job seekers outside of these jurisdictions it is important for individuals to consider undertaking the QLTS. 

For organisations and law firms looking to attract talent, we have seen that greater flexibility in the workplace plays a key part of the decision making process. Especially within this environment as many  skilled legal professional are geographically widespread. Flexibility is now high on the agenda and companies that are able to offer staff the ability to work from home, reduced hours and part time work can attract individuals who have been offered more money elsewhere. A challenge also remains on billable hours with many firms looking at creative ways to attract talent around this with alternative models. 

Lastly, for the first time in the nation’s history, four generations are working side by side in the workplace:  Traditionalists, Baby Boomers, Generation X and Generation Y. Law firms must adapt to changing face of the workforce to accommodate this as well as the upcoming arrival of Generation Z. Social networking is changing the way legal professionals recruit, job hunt, network, locate and discredit witnesses, manage their careers and interact with clients. This skill set is now a requirement and no longer just desirable.

Notable trends

Partly due to Brexit, foreign businesses are looking to lure the skilled Financial Services legal workforce of London to areas such as Ireland, France and Germany. As a result, businesses need to be aware of this imminent threat and ensure they offer progression and continue to lead in areas such as pay, promotion and job satisfaction. 

Whilst competition to attract lawyers away from London remains high, 41.6% of in-house lawyers placed in 2017 were foreign qualified. This is a significant increase from 2016 where 22.7% of in-house lawyers were foreign qualified. This is encouraging data as it shows the London market remains a top professional destination for skilled legal employees working abroad. Of the total number of contract legal placements made in 2017, 76.5% were female - which is an increase of 10% from 2016. This could be attributed to businesses focusing more on the gender equality, with diversity and inclusion remaining high on future growth lists. This, coupled with contracting, which can be a good way for female legal professionals to return to work after maternity leave will continue to create change well into 2018. 

From the upcoming GDPR challenge to the Paradise Papers fall-out, potentially more mergers and rise of the Big 4 and start-up in house legal teams change is certainly upon us.

Natalie Limerick's picture


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