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The state of the UK legal recruitment market. Things to think about whilst your on the beach this summer…or maybe not!

You may care, you may not, but lets face it recruitment is part of our diet these days. We are not allowed sugar and drinking fruit juice is bad for us, a bit of recruitment as far I’m aware has no health risks attached to it so lets get it while we can!

Let me start with where I think the general marketplace is right now compared to last year. Taking the West and East Midlands region as an example, as a legal recruitment business we are instructed by law firms on roughly 240 live legal vacancies at any given time across the Midlands compared to around 160 this time last year so approximately 33% more live roles. Of this 240, 60% are property focused, fairly evenly split between commercial and residential conveyancing. Commercial and corporate vacancies account for around 30%, the least buoyant area of law is insurance litigation which accounts for around 10% of the overall total. This is in stark contrast to 2 years ago when insurance litigation accounted for 50% of our total live legal vacancies at any given time.

The key growth areas are within commercial and residential property. Multiple commercial property vacancies are common place in both the larger national firms in the main legal centres and also the ‘out of town’ commercial firms. Every firm seems very keen to recruit due to the increase in work levels. The number of residential conveyancing vacancies has grown at an alarming rate over the last 6 months and will continue to do so until the housing market cools (could it be about to cool? I read in the Times today that housing prices dropped). Both the large volume conveyancing businesses and the more traditional firms on the High Street are looking to recruit people, ideally with at least 6 months conveyancing experience, more experienced lawyers are needed by the traditional law firms. The larger conveyancing businesses are offering trainee conveyancer roles to LPC graduates and providing excellent training and development.

The driving force behind this growth is due to the growing economy, in general terms, across the regions. But within commercial property its also to do with the fact that between 2009 and 2011 very few lawyers qualified into commercial property due to the recession. The same can be said of corporate but to a slightly lessor extent. The large national firms have significant gaps between 2-5 PQE, what we are seeing this year are multiple commercial property vacancies due to 2-5 PQE lawyers being largely non existent. This was similar to 2005/2006. When the dot.com bubble burst in the early 2000’s firms tightened their belts, as a result trainee numbers fell. The latest recession was obviously a lot worse but the trend is similar.
The key demands across the board are within residential conveyancing, commercial property, commercial and corporate. Banking roles have also increased but given its position as a niche discipline in the regions it will never be as buoyant as the other areas.

The future trends that might shift this demand will depend on whether the cycle of recession and recovery continues as it has done in the last 15 years. The doom mongerers out there will say we are due another recession in a couple of years time so all property and corporate vacancies will disappear and insurance litigation will bounce back (people appear to make more claims in a recession) but hopefully governments will have learnt from past mistakes and law firms will try and keep trainee solicitor levels more constant. This coupled with a greater number of firms recruiting law graduates and offering less traditional routes to qualification, we should see less gaps in experience levels going forward. Habits are hard to break though so it wouldn’t surprise me if I am sat here in 5 years time commenting on yet another dearth of 2-5 PQE commercial property solicitors!

My predictions for the next 12 months? Well, the summer period will remain busy with NQ vacancies particularly within commercial property. From autumn the focus will return to seeking more qualified solicitors to fill the mid level gaps as work levels continue to rise. The number of residential conveyancing roles may decrease if the housing market does genuinely cool. I believe the defendant insurance litigation market will slowly get busier but perhaps within areas such as subrogated recovery, property damage fraud and product liability as opposed to defendant motor fraud and claimant PI. Happy holidays!

For more information please contact James Brewster or visit our website BCL Legal

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