2015 mid-year market update – private practice – London

Private practice in London has continued to see increases in recruitment activity over the last six months in nearly all core areas, and across all sizes of firm. Firms are not only replacing headcount losses but are increasing headcount in many areas. 
Like in other regions across the UK, the most in demand lawyers are those in the 1-5 year PQE space, with high retention rates of newly qualified lawyers.  Those specialising in property, construction and corporate, alongside regulatory roles and banking are receiving multiple offers. 
Firms are keen to better understand the salary levels, benefits packages, and flexibility around working arrangements of their competitors. In the short term, salary levels will have a bearing on a firm’s ability to attract the best and most in demand candidates. In the medium term, those firms which implement flexible working policies will certainly benefit from better retention rates, as this continues to be a high priority for lawyers when looking at joining a firm. 

Advice for firms looking to hire in the current candidate driven market

The current market is candidate driven, especially at the 1-5 PQE level. This is the case across all sizes of firms and most sectors. Employers need to understand how to attract top talent when they’re essentially on the back foot.
  • Be open-minded - the broader the brief you give your recruiter the better. The key to successfully recruiting in a candidate driven market is looking for candidates in firms, locations, or backgrounds you would have not usually considered. 
  • Move quickly – most candidates will interview at multiple firms, and often receive more than one offer. The faster you move, the higher your chances of securing the candidate you want. 
  • Ask the tough questions - find out from interviewees where their reservations may lie. Discuss these reservations face to face at interview so that you can take them into consideration when making an offer.  

Candidate behaviour in the current market

In the current climate there are a handful of key things candidates look for when deciding to explore opportunities. Basic salaries are a constant source of focus for lawyers in private practice. Firms will publish what they intend to pay NQ’s or PEP’s for their partners; it’s very much in the public domain. Competition for lawyers will only put firms under pressure to increase salaries, and those firms prepared or able to pay more will ultimately win candidates. 
Candidates are also concerned about career development and flexibility around working arrangements. Firms that demonstrate a clear and structured career path to potential employees will be at an advantage. Firms are increasingly offering better and more flexible benefits packages. Flexible or agile working is not only very attractive to potential employees but will also help retention of current staff. In the current market, these are the types of considerations that can tip the balance in your favour during a recruitment process. 

Social media for attracting top lawyers

The impact of social media on recruitment has been huge in recent years, and this will only continue. LinkedIn has become not a ‘nice to have’, but a fundamental element of attracting the best candidates. Lawyers will now increasingly expect to be approached proactively via mediums such as LinkedIn and other social media platforms. This is a shift away from the more traditional, “who have you got on your books” view taken by many firms when dealing with recruitment partners. 

Looking ahead 

The next six months is likely to see continued recruitment activity in the banking, funds and projects work areas, as well as the usual property, construction and corporate areas. Although contentious roles have been the far smaller proportion of roles in recent times, we are seeing firms begin to bolster their contentious teams, particularly in the construction and financial services sectors. 
The short supply of candidates in these areas will continue in the short and medium term, and is likely to create a further challenge to employers. Where departments are busy, the promise of better hours and flexible working is not always viable, and therefore many lawyers will be increasingly motivated by reward, rather than the promise of a better work life balance. We will continue to see a high level of ‘buy-backs’ as firms battle to retain their top talent. 
Although 2015 will continue to be a challenging year for employers when it comes to both attracting and retaining key staff, it is driven by the increased levels of activity from clients, which is overall a very good place to be. 
Are you looking to take the next step in your legal career in London? Are you looking to hire lawyers in London? Or are you simply looking for some further advice on the legal recruitment market? Contact Tom Gowing, associate director at Michael Page Legal for a confidential discussion.
T: +44 20 7269 2254