Legal Market Update Q1, 2020

January 10

2019 continued to be a buoyant year for Legal recruitment. The backdrop of Brexit uncertainty may have resulted in a slowdown in M&A activity, but this did not translate to a reduction in demand for Corporate Lawyers. The new market entrants from the UK continued to put pressure on the larger commercial firms, and salaries have continued to increase for experienced Commercial Lawyers in Real Estate, Funds, Corporate, and Technology.

A significant increase in in-house roles, especially within the Technology sector, has led to a severe shortage in certain areas.

The reduction in in-house activity in the second quarter vs the first quarter is often a seasonal aberration, whereby budgets are released in the new year for increased head count, with in-house recruitment soaring as a result. The second half of the year saw a significant increase in senior in-house opportunities, all of these roles being hotly contested by an excellent pool of candidates.

Recruitment in private practice was again marked by a significant increase in smaller firms (staff numbers below 50) recruiting at rates similar to pre-2008. These roles were across Property, Banking, Debt Recovery, Employment, and Civil Litigation, some of which have not been buoyant markets in the recent past. 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 of the smaller firms are starting to win back work that the larger firms had taken on during the recession, with many of the larger firms happy to “price themselves out” of winning that level of work.

With Pinsent Masons and DLA Piper continuing to hire at partner level, the whole market at this level has continued to be very competitive.

Similarly to 2018, there was a lot of movement of Solicitors moving from mid-tier firms to the Top 6 firms (many of whom are keen to gain bigger-ticket experience) and a contraflow of candidates from the Big 6 to the mid-tier firms in search of a better work–life balance. it might be a case of “The grass is always greener”, and there is nothing to suggest that 2020 will be any different on this front.

Skills shortages

We fully expect the shortage of Solicitors in the areas of Corporate Law, Financial Services Regulation, Investment Funds, and Capital Markets to continue into 2020. There has been an almost constant demand for in-house Funds Lawyers throughout the year. 

It is important for employers to focus on staff retention, and this is not just about levels of pay. Staff need to feel appreciated, and holding regular performance reviews to communicate to them their value and to help develop them professionally will lead to better retention. Offering the staff opportunities to work on secondment (which can have the unintended consequence of giving them a taste for the in-house life); offering them sabbaticals (often to get their itchy feet moving); and offering flexible working hours are all initiatives that employees welcome and value.

Many of the problems around skill shortages over the past few years can be traced back to law firms reducing their traineeship programmes during the recession. This has since changed, with firms increasing their numbers over the last few years. Not all of the current trainees will be placed into their preferred or first-choice departments upon qualification, but the nature of the buoyant market means that many of them will be able to move to rival firms to pursue their careers in their desired disciplines.

Legal Executives and Paralegals

We have seen continued growth within the Legal market throughout the past 12 months, which we predict will continue to develop as companies are continuing to expand as well as establish themselves following the effect of Brexit. Law firms are now truly understanding the benefit of having an excellent support-staff operation within all departments. They are continuing to invest in their support professionals in order to retain employees and lower staff turnover, as well as training and developing the future qualified Solicitors.

As the market has picked up over the last couple of years we are now seeing smaller and medium-sized firms hiring an increased number of support staff 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 2020 as activity is continuing to increase within these areas. Financial Services, Funds, and Aircraft Leasing are seeing a growing requirement for Paralegals in both practice and in-house areas. 

Company Secretaries

Over the past few years, the importance of an expert within the area of Corporate Governance has become essential, and with it comes the position of a Qualified Company Secretary. It is becoming more and more apparent that in Ireland this position has quickly become a highly ranked role in all business structures.

Throughout the past 12 months, we have seen the requirement for Company Secretaries increase at all levels, from trainees to managerial levels. As demand is increasing across the board, so are salaries, benefits, and flexibility requirements. It has become evident over the past couple of years that acquiring a good Company Secretary within a workforce can be worth its weight in gold, and firms have quickly caught onto this concept.

We anticipate this trend to continue, with more and more companies realising that without someone looking after this area, the company could be at risk.

What will 2020 bring?

With many U.K. financial institutions looking to either set up an Irish operation or to expand their Irish offices, we are predicting a number of senior-level in-house opportunities to be available throughout 2020. These roles will attract top-calibre talent from both Ireland and internationally, especially where Front Office work is moved across the Irish Sea.

We fully expect the market to remain a ”candidates’ 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 1 day a week, and more flexible working days being offered (especially to existing staff who have built up internal goodwill).

Download the 2020 Salary & Employment Insights Survey

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About the Author

John Macklin

John Macklin

Director Legal & Compliance 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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