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Is working in the law the best way to make your career recession-proof?

An article in The Telegraph on Monday 24th November made interesting reading. According to the article titled ‘Is being a lawyer the way to make your career recession-proof?’, more than one-third (35%) of lawyers believe their careers are recession-proof.

The findings from an exhaustive survey done by private bank, Investec, found less than half of law professionals said job opportunities were hampered by the economic downturn.

The report, entitled The Future of Work, questioned 2,100 professionals in different industries including law, medical, healthcare, civil service, teaching, human resources, building and construction, hospitality and catering, sales and retail, engineering as well as IT and computing.

Lawyers appear to be enjoying more positive prospects with almost three quarters of those asked more confident about future working prospects now than they were five years ago, according to the report.

Although lawyers were the most likely to say their career was recession-proof, it was in fact teachers who were more likely to say the recession did not limit their opportunities.

Despite the more positive findings about lawyers, Wayne Preston, head of banking products at Investec, said there was no guarantee any career was recession-proof but advised choosing a career carefully.

“There is no guarantee that any career is recession proof, however choosing a vocation with a specialist element will help you get the best possible outcome,”

BCL Legal’s view

2014 has been a positive year for the legal sector with a decent volume of recruitment activity. Opportunities for commercial solicitors have been particularly good and there has been demand from both private practice and in-house legal departments for new staff. However, we should be mindful of reading too much into the headline of the article. 35% is only one-third of the legal sector and the remaining two-thirds are perhaps less confident and are in a state of flux.

Lawyers working in personal injury, civil litigation, insurance fraud and criminal law have had a particularly tough year, potentially impacting on their long-term career prospects and confidence. The Jackson reforms and Legal Aid reforms have played a large part in this however the cyclical nature of certain legal disciplines also come into play.

Last month it was reported that criminal lawyers had been asked to take a 4% pay cut; another report spoke about legal practices closing due to fee cuts; and it has been well reported that law firms have had to drive down costs and improve efficiency to remain profitable – predominantly by undertaking work with less qualified staff, thus limiting opportunities for qualified solicitors.

Outwith legal reforms, it is worth recalling that it wasn’t long ago that Commercial Property, which is now very buoyant, was in the doldrums and was anything but recession proof. When considering that ‘almost three quarters of [lawyers]’ felt ‘more confident about future working prospects now than they were five years ago’, we should recall the cyclical nature of the economy and legal practice – particularly property, litigation, insolvency and corporate law.

Having a specialist vocation could help you get the best possible outcome however it should be considered in the wider context of your chosen sector. Thus, when considering your options at University, at the end of your training contract, or during your working life, you need to look as far down the track as possible. If you become too specialist in the wrong discipline you may limit your chances of changing career path.

It’s worth remembering, there was a time when being a Cotton Loom Weaver, Mesothelioma Lawyer or Pneumoconiosis Lawyer – Industrial Diseases related to Asbestos and Coal Dust – had long-term job prospects.

For more information please contact Craig Wilson or visit our website BCL Legal.

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