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'Slip! Slop! Slap!': a barometer of London's summer recruitment activity

The UK summer of 2018 has been the fourth hottest on record with temperatures reaching 33 degrees Celsius in the Met Office's Stephenson Screen; my back garden thermometer nearly exploded with the mercury rising to 40 degrees Celsius in the direct sunshine! 'Slip! Slop! Slap!' comes to mind -  a saying I first heard in Australia many years ago. (Worth a Google session if you haven't come across it.)

The good weather started in May and it continues (apart from a short autumn blip when the heavens opened). With this unusually warm summer, many have taken extended holidays, and many have taken their holidays within the UK. Why travel to Europe when you can have it all in the UK. What Brexit...?

London's summer market

Bizarrely, this weather pattern has mirrored the London private practice recruitment market over recent months. In general terms, there's been a steady and constant flow of recruitment activity in law firms throughout the whole summer period, except in August when many of the Partners I've been in contact with disappeared to their homes in the south of France (for nearly all of August) to miss the rain. So in fact, some people did go abroad...

From May to July, there was a definite build-up of activity across many of the international law firms in the Square Mile. And we're not talking one or two sporadic hires across a firm, but a significant number of hires - often with three or four live roles in one particular team.

US firms

Litigation teams within US firms have been ramping up for some time, but two of the leading firms have been hiring at least three Associates into the same team. 'Math' tells me that's six litigation roles across two firms.

Yes, there's a combination of movement and in some limited cases, moves into partnership, but most of this has expanded due to the constant wave of businesses, countries and consumers arguing with each other. Just look at the expansion of the Panama Canal - nearly US$5 billion is now in arbitration. Closer to home, the emissions scandal with Volkswagen is reaching €9 billion and isn't going to settle anytime soon. How many document review people are needed for this? Going off BCL Legal's placements alone (over 100 this summer), a large number; all to deal with the recent surge in disputes.

Relocation (from the Home Counties)

In addition, firms down the pecking order (but still in the top 50 nationally) have also hired into their disputes teams, offering significant increases in salary for those joining from regional firms. I was recently involved with several solicitors who when making the move from the Home Counties to a role in London, saw a 30% increase in salary. Firms with offices in the Home Counties will continue to find it difficult to hire when these opportunities are presented with such significant base increases, and they'll have to consider their own salary increases to secure similar talent.

When you review the recruitment activity within other departments at these firms, including corporate, banking, real estate and employment, equally, I've witnessed a constant release of vacancies to the market.

UK-trained candidates

The corporate market is a buyer’s market. It's completely candidate driven and over the summer we've seen top-tier candidates who are looking (and many haven't been) snapped up in record time; and again, taking significant hikes in their base salary. Demand is as strong as ever for this talent and put simply, there’s not enough to go around. In addition, a requirement for many of the City firms is to secure UK-trained and qualified lawyers, which means the talent pool is tightly squeezed. Lawyers from common law jurisdictions, and from Europe and other international hubs, are struggling to receive offers for roles as they compete against the UK-trained kids. 

The heavy demand for City real estate lawyers 

Clearly, investment is at a high in the UK and I only use the barometer of recruitment activity within private practice. Real estate roles have been flying off the shelves: simply walk down Bishopsgate and look up into the New York style skyscrapers going up. There are cranes and building sites everywhere across the City as office blocks are torn down and reconstructed. Stick Crossrail right into the middle of this and you can physically see the financial investors from far-flung jurisdictions pumping cash into the City. The consequence is that our City real estate lawyers are in demand. Construction, commercial property and real estate finance positions are all trending upwards. And, of course, someone somewhere is not happy about the completion date, or the shape of that building, so it kicks off in the courts again. With the soaring temperatures, clearly, the air conditioning in the boardrooms hasn’t been cool enough to prevent action in the courts.

Specialist firms and City trained lawyers

The other significant area of activity is in the corporate M&A market, private equity and venture capital investment and in turn, banking roles all being in demand. Specialist lawyers with venture capital experience have been (and still are) in demand across town with specialist firms snapping up City trained lawyers all over the place.

BCL Legal placed one of these City trained lawyers last week; into a bespoke venture capital law firm. By week two, the firm merged (back) into a highly regarded international firm. M&A transects law firms as well as global businesses and the heat has got the acquisition appetites suitably hungry.

Taking advantage of the upsurge

So, all is glorious in this sunny recruitment Kingdom… except the August slow down, but don’t fear. As the schools return to a new academic year, and the trains and tube start to fill up again, the roles return to the market; fresh roles for those who want to secure a new position in 2019.

With the standard three months notice for an Associate, now’s the time to take advantage of the upsurge in activity. If you’re a UK qualified solicitor with at least 2 years' PQE, jump on this opportunity to move to a firm that’s well and truly on the up, whilst securing a 30% salary increase.

The mercury has hovered at a sensible 20o Celsius in September, but the temperature of the legal recruitment market is climbing. It’s highly likely the current surge in activity will continue to the Christmas holiday and the heat of the law firms' recruitment engines will soar.

Slip! Slop! Slap! ... it's a great time to enjoy an extended British summer. 


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