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Legal Market Update Q1, 2019
This year we are expecting the demand for legal talent to continue unabated. It promises to be a great market for jobseekers as international firms seek to grow out their teams, large domestic firms fight to preserve their place, and large mid-tier firms continue to make gains in market share.
2018 was the busiest year for private practice legal recruitment since the recession ended. Firms of all sizes were looking to build their practices and gain market share. Some did this through acquisition and mergers, others by increasing the number of trainees they hired, and the number of newly qualified solicitors they retained or attracted from other firms. Some firms recruited entire teams from rival firms.
Junior lawyers continued to seek opportunities abroad, especially in London, while more seasoned lawyers returned to the Dublin market from London and Australia in larger numbers than previously. These returning lawyers discovered a market that is hungry for their talent. There continued to be a high demand from all the commercial firms in Ireland for lawyers who have worked in large international firms.
We have also witnessed an upturn in partner lateral movement this year. The arrival of Pinsent Masons, Simmons & Simmons and DLA Piper has injected competition into the market at the top level for high-value legal work. Counter-offers have been rife, but most partners who were committed to a move could not be persuaded to stay. With other international entrants rumoured to be looking at expanding into Dublin, the competition for partner talent promises to heat up even more.
Shortages of good solicitors remain in the areas of corporate law, tax, financial services regulation and capital markets. Experienced funds lawyers are constantly in demand, both in-house and from law firms. The most in-demand area was corporate solicitors, even though M&A activity seemed to slow down towards the end of the year.
There has been a lot of movement this year with solicitors moving from mid-tier firms to the Big 6 firms (many of whom are keen to gain bigger ticket experience), and a contraflow of candidates from the Big 6 to mid-tier firms in order to gain a better work–life balance. Many solicitors who are actively looking for new roles are seeking a new challenge rather than merely looking for more money, autonomy, or career progression. A significant percentage of those who are actively on the market are seeking a move in-house (especially at the senior end of the market).
The reasons for this include a perception that an in-house role will be less demanding (which is not always the case) or they have no interest in pursuing the partnership track in their firm. Consequently, when in-house roles come onto the market, competition can be fierce, with a large number of applicants applying for the role. The importance of a candidate’s recruiter is intensified in such a situation, as they will be talking to the prospective client to make sure their candidate stands out from the crowd.
The reduction of in-house activity in the third quarter compared to the first two quarters is often a seasonal aberration, whereby budgets are released in the new year for the increased headcount and in-house recruitment soars as a result. The last quarter of the year saw a significant increase in senior in-house opportunities, all of which were hotly contested by an excellent pool of candidates. This was due to solicitors looking to make a move away from practice. The full recruitment cycle is a much quicker process here, as opposed to the roles in practice. This is due to positions only being advertised for a short period or, as we have seen over the past twelve months, not being advertised at all in cases where companies prefer a specific search.
Whenever we’ve observed trends over the last couple of years, in-house legal within the financial services sector has always been the frontrunner. However, this has been closely contested in 2018 by growing requirements within both the areas of Insurance and Technology with firms expanding their Irish operations post-Brexit.
Legal Support Staff
Recruitment within the legal support area has continued on its upward trajectory over the past year. There has been quite a noticeable shift within the market over the last few years in relation to the level of work that support staff are now being exposed to. We noted the climb in favour of employees last year, and this year it has become quite apparent: As a candidate you will be sought after once you have experience within a specific department, as firms are now eager to train support staff into their desired departments as required – over the risk of losing them to a competitor.
Support staff, such as executives, paralegals and legal assistants, are crucial to the efficient running of every legal department, as they allow firms to develop and expand. Firms now fully understand the benefit of having an exceptional support staff operation within all their departments. They are continuing to invest in their support professionals in order to retain employees and lower their staff turnover.
We have seen a great rise in the number of mid-tier and top-tier firms that are implementing professional training and development programmes. In addition, firms are employing technological investment, ensuring that employees are equipped with the latest legal technologies (e.g., legal document management software).
With the market continuing to grow over the past few years, recruitment activity has increased within top- tier firms across most departments, with the majority of roles still coming, in practice, from the “Top 10” firms. We are now also seeing boutique and medium- sized firms hiring an increasing number of support staff due to higher workloads, and we expect this to continue well into 2019.
Legal Executives and Paralegals with a strong background in Property, Litigation and Corporate will remain in-demand in 2019 as activity is increasing within this area. Financial Services, Funds and Aviation were also more sought-after areas in 2018 in both the Practice and In-House areas. We predict the growing need for support staff in the area of healthcare and employment to continue, given the continuing workload that is expected next year.
In the ever-growing corporate world, having an expert within all sectors has become essential, which has meant companies increasingly need the position of company secretary. It is becoming more and more apparent that the role is now extremely valued in Ireland, with demand for it increasing across the board.
Throughout 2018, we saw this requirement for Company Secretaries increase at all levels, from trainees to managerial level. Due to a lack of candidates, trainee and part-qualified company secretaries are being given more responsibility and so are rising up the ladder a lot quicker. We anticipate this to continue in 2019, with more and more companies appreciating that without talented individuals taking charge, the department could be at risk. Companies are also being increasingly open to the idea of training part qualified and developing them through to qualification. The University of Ulster told us they have seen an exciting rise in the number of students registering for the ICSA course over the last 24 months. This will, hopefully, help to alleviate the current shortage.
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