Like so many other industries, the legal sector has undergone significant changes as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. Talent strategies and remuneration dynamics have fundamentally shifted, with big ramifications for legal professionals. 

With this in mind, here we take a deep dive into the most important trends impacting the post-pandemic legal sector and provide top tips to help you thrive in a new landscape. 

Pent-up remuneration frustration

It is well known that the discretionary, company performance-linked nature of salary raises for in-house lawyers can be a source of dissatisfaction. When candidates accept roles, they do so in the knowledge that the salary will need to satisfy them for the foreseeable future. The Covid-19 pandemic has certainly exacerbated this issue. In fact, most of the candidates we speak to here at Michael Page Legal, whether they are actively looking for new opportunities or not, have expressed concern and frustration about the lack of salary increases and bonuses during the pandemic. This is also a key factor driving candidates to seek new roles in 2021. 

Accordingly, many of our clients are concerned about an exodus of talent as the markets return to a semblance of normalcy. One summarised the mood rather aptly, commenting:

Unfortunately, we just don’t have the sign-off to increase salaries. We have about four people in the team who are all deserving of a promotion or salary increase this year and there is no way we are going to be able to give that to all of them. I think we will end up losing one or two in the next 6 to 12 months as other companies seem better placed to hire new talent.

This is a difficult situation, since salary frustration is common regardless of the state of the job market. Nonetheless, legal leaders must be attentive to underlying frustrations in their teams regarding renumeration. Unfortunately, salaries are the one area that many lawyers are reluctant to discuss, for fear of having their ‘card marked’. But failure to acknowledge the likelihood of quiet frustration – even if the situation cannot be immediately addressed – could cause companies to lose many of their top performers.

Who is hiring?

Recruitment in the legal space has seen an uptick in 2021, with most organisations coming back out into the market to hire talent. As expected, the main action has been at the junior end of the market: over 75% of the roles Michael Page Legal has hired for this year have been aimed at lawyers with –three to six years of post-qualification experience. It has also been encouraging to see larger multinationals and blue-chip businesses recruiting again, as these organisations saw large declines in hiring levels last year.

But the most experienced candidates have been hit hardest by the turbulence in the job market. The pandemic has led many larger businesses to deploy global restructuring schemes while they retrench or delay expansion plans, often streamlining their legal hierarchies by removing a level of ‘management’. It will take time for the impact of these restructures to become apparent, and further time for businesses to gain confidence the recovery before they rehire for these senior roles.

However, one key growth area has emerged as a direct result of the pandemic: first legal hire or sole general counsel positions in the start-up and SME community. It is great to see so many companies thriving to the point of requiring an in-house lawyer for the first time. These roles are challenging, and expectations of lawyers in such growing businesses are very different from a mainstream legal roles. They can be incredibly rewarding, however, and many senior lawyers are pivoting towards these fast-paced new companies that are disrupting the market.
The legal sector has seen major shifts since the onset of the pandemic, and its effects on remuneration and talent acquisition strategies will be with us for the foreseeable future. At Michael Page Legal, our expert consultants help a wide variety of businesses to thrive by connecting them with the sector’s very best candidates. If you are looking for top legal talent to join your team, reach out using the details below, or, for advice on related issues, check out our articles section here.

Thomas Watson, Associate Director, Michael Page Legal
Email: [email protected]
T: +44 207 269 2499 
M: +44 758 438 6129