Angharad Warren, Director, discusses the Midlands private practice market in 2023 and shares her predictions for the coming year

From Angharad Warren

2021 and 2022 were particularly buoyant for legal recruitment. In contrast, 2023 has been a lot quieter, particularly in transactional areas such as real estate and corporate.

The litigation market has continued to be busy, particularly property litigation and there has also been demand for employment lawyers, as well as lawyers in hard-to-find areas such as construction and pensions. We’ve also seen an increased demand for public procurement lawyers, and expect to see that continue with the Procurement Bill having recently been granted Royal Assent.

Mid-tier salary increases

Salary levels have remained fairly static, with a few mid-tier firms making decent increases to catch up with the larger national/international firms, while those at the higher end of the pay scale awarded only modest increases.

At the NQ level, we have seen fewer vacancies than usual, meaning that those approaching qualification have had to be very flexible.

Greener pastures?

London has continued to be a big pull for Midlands’ lawyers given the easy commute and higher salaries. As in-house legal teams continue to grow with good overall packages and lack of hours based and financial targets, they also continue to pull lawyers away from private practice.

Expectations on lawyers following last year’s salary increases seem to have increased and many lawyers are now coming to us looking for a move away from those firms with the highest expectations.

Tightening standards

There are still certainly plenty of active vacancies but a very clear tightening on hiring standards and more opportunities at the mid and senior level rather than at the junior level. New law firms are entering the Midlands market, TLT being one, with another large national moving into Birmingham shortly (currently confidential).

There are also big plans for growth at various other firms. The market for partners with followings and entrepreneurial legal directors is strong as firms strive to grow.

Predictions for 2024

2024 is likely to see a continued push on office presence at the junior level for obvious reasons, as well as a push (albeit to a lesser extent) at the mid and senior level where it is required for supervision and improved relationship building. The push on diversity and inclusion, particularly social mobility, will also continue, as will the continued investment into technology and AI by law firms.

Overall, and from speaking to various partners at different law firms across the Midlands, the outlook for 2024 is positive. This mirrors the improved market conditions we are currently seeing in terms of job flow, growth and urgency of vacancies in the final quarter of this year.

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