Lawyers seek roles offering high quality of work and the opportunity to work flexibly

Morgan McKinley 08.07.2019

Demand for in house lawyers continues to increase the level of Legal hiring, whilst the contract market is restricted by the lack of clarity surrounding the post-Brexit trading relationship with Europe.

How has the Legal hiring landscape been over the first half of 2019?

There has been a significant uplift in permanent legal openings within businesses and ISDA jobs over the course of the past few months. In part, this has been due to the extension date of Brexit, but much of it pertains to the increased requirement for in house lawyers to advise on a range of regulatory and commercial matters. Many of these in house Legal jobs across London have been made available due to growth rather than replacements. Roles in M&A, corporate, commercial and banking have all become available in house, demonstrating a positive market. 

The private practice market has also seen an increase in hiring, specifically for corporate and commercial roles. Contentious roles remain steady across the full range of general commercial litigation and we have witnessed a broad range, including insurance, IP and civil litigation. The volume of banking roles remains steady despite some uncertainty, however there has been some hesitancy at the junior (0-2 PQE) level, with many employers seeking to bring in experienced bodies.

On the contract side, hiring has increased since the start of the year but it is still limited with clients awaiting a clearer idea of the post-Brexit trading relationship with Europe. Beyond this, discussions are commencing about IR35 and clients’ positions, with several deciding upon PAYE only hires. Derivatives roles still make up a high percentage of live roles, with regulatory falling behind on previous years, primarily due to available permanent resources with project delays and less large scale regulatory change.

The influence of regulatory changes

The in house legal jobs market has seen the demand for some incredibly specific regulatory skill sets. Since the implementation of the Mortgage Credit Directive from Europe, there has been a significant need for lawyers to advise retail lenders on the latest changes for real estate lending. Internal changes for GDPR have now been implemented and consequently lawyers now find themselves having to deal with breaches and the consequences of reporting them. In house roles continue to grow in scope, but they still require the more niche, technical advice from private practice lawyers.

Initial Margin phase IV is adding to the workload of contract lawyers, but without the size of impact that variation margin previously had. Looking forward, Initial Margin Phase V will likely result in the need for more support given the broader systemic impact, leading up to September 2020 with a large number of entities falling under the notional value limitation. The SMCR deadline on 9th December will come around quickly for dual-regulated companies; any firms not yet ready will now experience serious competition for regulatory lawyers with this experience. Solo-regulated firms have a little more time with 9th December 2020 as their deadline, but should begin the process sooner rather than later.

Highest levels of hiring have occurred at…

The continual drive to attract the very best mid-level lawyers has been prevalent, with businesses seeking 4-5 years’ PQE. For Private Practice the experience level is slightly less, generally around 2-4 years’ PQE, with Senior Associate roles becoming available due to lawyers moving on. Recently there have also been more senior roles in restructuring and insolvency with more businesses being wound up.

How to keep the workforce motivated and attract new employees

Vast numbers of firms have moved their fee earners to flexible working arrangements. One specific US law firm now operates a full dress down policy throughout the working week, as well as the ability to work where it suits the employee. This said, Associate target hours are in excess of 2000 per annum within these firms, meaning late nights will remain necessary whether in the office or working from home.

Virtually all major City law firms have implemented significant Diversity and Inclusion policies, whilst Mental Health Week and Pride have been stand out calendar events where many firms have offered significant support to their workforce. This support has involved bringing in external speakers, running workshops and offering advice.

Despite CSR initiatives being important to businesses, many lawyers do not seek their next role based on a firm’s policies. Almost all the time, lawyers are attracted to level and quality of work on offer, career prospects, ability to work flexibly and, unsurprisingly, remuneration.

Legal vacancies

What has made a Legal CV stand out? 

Firms have been seeking experienced permanent associates and senior associates with minimal movement on their CVs; multiple moves in a short period of time creates unwanted questions. A strong academic record, training with a well known law firm and an additional language puts an application at the top of the shortlist. A full suite of legal skills has been required in 2019, including corporate M&A and private equity, commercial litigation, employment, restructuring and insolvency, regulatory and finance.

The contract market continues to be a more mature workforce, with a larger percentage of senior candidates choosing the flexibility offered by contracting. Funds Lawyers, Derivatives Lawyers and Regulatory Lawyers all continue to be in demand.

Those lawyers who wish to put themselves in a unique position should consider electing to qualify in a niche or boutique area. There is a clear shortage of regulatory lawyers and life sciences, whilst there is an abundance of international candidates looking to move into the growth area of Investment Treaty arbitration.

How can Legal job seekers stay motivated over the slower summer months?

For any lawyers waiting to hear back about an application, interview or those eager to improve their potential, consider the below:

  • Be aware of market trends
  • Carry on improving your CV with extra activities - e.g. business development, writing articles and attending relevant events. Consider obtaining client references and/or positive appraisal comments to demonstrate to potential employers
  • Chase up your recruitment consultant to proactively approach other firms - firms will continue to consider excellent talent
  • Be fully aware of potential changes to GDPR and IR35 and whether as a contractor you need to consider alternative approaches
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