Legal Hiring & Employment Trends Q1 2018

February 8

Recruitment in private practice throughout 2017 and into the first quarter of this year has been marked by a significant increase in the number of smaller firms (with less than 50 staff) recruiting at rates not seen since pre-2009. These roles have been in property, banking, debt recovery, employment and civil litigation, some of which have not been buoyant recently. This trend is a good indicator of a growing economy in general.  

With big ticket work being fought over by the large players in the market, many smaller firms are starting to win back work that was taken by larger firms during the recession with many of these bigger firms happy to ‘price themselves out’ of winning that level of work. 

There was a lot movement of solicitors many were keen to gain bigger ticket experience

Pinsent Masons’ announcement that it was setting up a Dublin office and securing the employment of three well-known Irish partners was big news. The partner recruitment market is certainly beginning to heat up with other UK firms looking to enter the market next year.

As was the case last year, there was a lot movement of solicitors. Many were keen to gain bigger ticket experience, moving from Mid-Tier firms to the Top 6 firms, and there was also a contra flow of candidates from the Big 6 to mid-tier firms in order to gain a better work-life balance. You could say ‘the grass is always greener’. There is nothing to suggest that the second quarter of 2018 will be any different on this front. Counter-offers continue to be prevalent in the market at all levels of experience.

Skill set shortages:

We fully expect the shortage of solicitors in Corporate Law, Tax, Financial Services Regulation and Capital Markets to continue well into 2018. Experienced Funds Lawyers are constantly in demand with both law firms and in-house.

It is important for employers to focus on staff retention. This is not just about levels of pay. Staff need to feel appreciated and the holding of regular performance reviews to communicate their value and develop them professionally will lead to better retention.  Employees welcome and value opportunities to work on secondment (which can unintentionally give them a taste for the in-house life), go on sabbaticals (often to get their itchy feet out of the way) and work flexible working hours.

Many of the recent problems caused by skill shortages can be traced back to law firms reducing their traineeship programs during the recession. This has now changed as the firms who increased their numbers last year and will do so again in 2018. Not all current trainees will be placed into their ‘preferred’ or ‘first-choice’ departments upon qualification, but the nature of the buoyant market means that many will be able to move to rival firms to pursue careers in their desired disciplines.

Top 5 Positions in Demand:

  • Funds Lawyers
  • Corporate Lawyers
  • Banking Lawyers
  • Capital Markets Lawyers
  • IP/IT Lawyers – contentious and non-contentious

What will Q2 bring?

“Data Protection” are still big buzzwords with law firms and accountancy practices vying with each other to offer consultancy services to clients around the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which comes into force in May 2018. It felt as if talks were being held daily all over Ireland, hosted by all and sundry, with people trying to claim a stake in this potentially very valuable market. Experienced professional are thin on the ground, so expect there to be an increase in demand for these candidates.

With many UK financial institutions looking to either set-up an Irish operation or expand their Irish offices, we are predicting a number of senior level in-house opportunities to be available throughout 2018. These roles will attract top calibre talent from both Ireland and internationally, especially in cases where front office work has moved across the Irish Sea.

We fully expect the market to remain a ‘candidate’s market’ with the Top 20 firms vying for the top talent. New entrants could disrupt the market further this year and law firms need to keep a keen eye on staff retention.

The trend of offering flexible working conditions looks likely to continue with many firms allowing staff to work from home for one day a week, and offering more flexible working days (especially to existing staff who have built up internal goodwill).

Legal Executives and Paralegals

We have seen continued growth within the Legal Market throughout the past twelve months, which I predict will continue to develop as companies continue to expand and establish themselves following the effect of Brexit. Our figures have revealed that more than 70% of firms plan to increase their workforce in 2018, but are not willing to compromise on skill set. Therefore, only strong talent will be considered, despite the current shortage of candidates.

Law firms now truly understand the benefit of having an excellent support staff operation in every department. They are continuing to invest in their support professionals in order to retain employees and reduce staff turnover, as well as train and develop future Qualified Solicitors.

We have also seen an increase in the development programs of  both Mid-Tier and Top-Tier firms. These have been focused in the area of Data Protection in order to educate all levels of staff about the new Data Protection Act before it is introduced in May 2018.

We are now seeing smaller and medium-sized firms hiring an increased number of support staff since the market has picked up due to higher workloads. Recruitment activity has risen within the Top 6 across small to medium-sized firms, but the majority of roles in practice still come from the ‘Top 10’ firms.

Legal Secretaries and Executives with a strong background in Banking, Property, Employment and Corporate will remain in demand in 2018, as activity is continuing to increase within this area.

There has been an improvement in the entire packages of candidates, including healthcare and pension benefits, as well as monetary salary, in order to overcome this issue and increase the attractiveness of all positions.

Company Secretaries

It is becoming more and more apparent that “co secs” in Ireland have quickly become a highly ranked role in many business structures. This has been reaffirmed by the new Data Protection Act, which is due to commence in 2018.

As demand increases across the board, so too will salaries, benefits and flexibility requirements. It has become evident over the past couple of years that acquiring a good Company Secretary can be worth its weight in gold.

Therefore, demand for Company Secretaries (at all levels) continues to be strong in financial services institutions, accountancy firms and law firms, and we fully expect this to continue well into 2018.

Our Legal recruitment team are consistently ready and prepared to assist with hiring requirements for small and large projects. To view up to date salary trends for 2018  please see full survey comparison by sector here.

 

About the Author

John Macklin

John Macklin

Director Legal & Compliance

jmacklin@lincoln.ie+ 353 ( 1 ) 661 0444

John is a Director and Head of the Legal division at Lincoln Ireland. He is also a qualified New York State Attorney and holds a Masters in Commercial Law from University College Dublin, an M.B.A. from Trinity College Dublin. John has over 10 years’ experience in the recruitment of legal partners across top tier firms, mid-tier firms and boutique practices across Ireland and further afield. Since joining Lincoln in 2013, John has also acted as company side advisor to many small to mid-level practices advising on mergers and acquisitions.

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