BCL’s Northern team discuss the private practice market around the North of England in 2023 and share their predictions for the coming year

Charlotte Newton, Associate Director and Nicola O’Hanlon, Senior Associate, provide an overview of the North West market

From Charlotte Newton and Nicola O’Hanlon

We found 2021 and 2022 to be incredibly busy, with unprecedented levels of recruitment. In contrast, we have found 2023 to be a little quieter, but still a successful year for the North West Private Practice team.

The transactional areas, in particular corporate and real estate, were the worst hit with redundancies in the North West. Although we have seen a reduction in the number of roles in these areas, we are currently working on vacancies at varying levels, with a range of firms, and we have helped a significant number of lawyers move roles this year.

Areas of opportunity

It is not all bad news for real estate. We have seen new entrants to the market this year, with Deloitte establishing a new real estate team in Manchester city centre. There is also a rising demand for real estate energy lawyers, with this being a growing area of law.

We have found employment and litigation to remain buoyant, with roles across the North West. There is still a demand for experienced commercial lawyers in private practice, and we have worked with several candidates this year looking to transition back into private practice from in-house roles.

We have also seen an increasing demand for public procurement lawyers, due to the Procurement Bill having recently been granted Royal Assent.

Looking before they leap

Due to economic uncertainty, there is understandably some hesitation from lawyers to move roles and potentially jeopardise their job security. We have found recruitment to be much more considered, with firms needing to check national utilisation levels thoroughly before releasing roles to the market.

We have generally seen less ‘speculative’ recruitment. However, this means that live roles have been through an even more rigorous sign-off process and are due to a genuine need to recruit. So, you could argue vacancies are much more ‘secure’ now than in 2021 and 2022.

We have seen salaries stabilise this year following large increases in NQ salaries in 2022 and 2021, and we expect this to continue in 2024.

We have seen more firms return to office working, with firms requiring lawyers to be in the office more (with the majority of firms now at two or three days a week in the office). There is certainly a greater expectation on junior lawyers to be present in the office, and again we expect this to continue in 2024.

So, what does 2024 look like? We would expect it to be similar to 2023 - recruitment will remain considered with a steady job flow.

We expect employment and litigation to remain busy. There could be more redundancies on the horizon in transactional areas across the North West, but we are here to help. We have assisted a number of lawyers in this situation this year, and we are confident we will be able to do the same next year.

Associates Jennifer Hepple and Laura Baron provide an overview of the Yorkshire market

From Jennifer Hepple and Laura Baron

As the biggest county in England, Yorkshire has a good variety of law firms across some great cities.

Leeds is Yorkshire’s largest city, with its legal market long dominated by the “Big Six” firms, namely Addleshaw Goddard, DLA Piper, Eversheds, Pinsent Masons, Squire Patton Boggs and Walker Morris. These firms continue to dominate the top tiers across all major legal directories for a wide range of practice areas.

There are a number of other national firms in the region which do pick up some top rankings and have shown signs of growth over the year, with big plans to continue growth in 2024.

Demand for construction builds

Construction teams remain busy, with no sign of this slowing down in the new year as teams continue to deal with the aftermath of the Building Safety Act. However, the demand for construction lawyers has exceeded supply and there remains a shortage.

The technology sector is one of the fastest growing sectors, with the demand for commercial technology solicitors increasing across the region.

With talk of a looming recession, we have seen some obvious areas of slowing down in comparison to the start of the year, such as corporate and real estate. That being said, at the time of writing we do still have several instructions in these areas.

Litigation and Dispute resolution are areas that are less dependent on the economic cycle than others and as a result have seen significant growth and stability this year.

NQ salaries up

There have been positive changes for NQs this year, with starting salaries up to £65k at the top end of the market. Some smaller firms within the region are struggling to keep up with the higher paying firms, however others are counter-offering to match salaries of the larger internationals. Unsurprisingly, we continue to speak to disappointed mid-level associates who are learning their take home is only slightly more than their NQs.

Rozie Hunter, Director, provides an overview of the North East market

From Rozie Hunter

The North East continues to go from strength to strength in establishing itself as a legal powerhouse, competing with the likes of Leeds and other major Northern cities to offer the very best in legal services.

There have been some new additions to the Newcastle market this year, including Knights Plc, who completed their second acquisition in the North East with the takeover of St James’ Square. A number of new partner hires have joined over the last few months, and a few big names from some of Newcastle’s largest firms are set to join in the New Year.

Private client and disputes in demand

Contrary to previous years, without question the most popular practice areas into which firms have been recruiting throughout 2023 have been private client and litigation (particularly property litigation). The demand has been (and still is) exceptionally high, with over 20 live roles currently ongoing across the North East. With candidates in high demand, salaries have soared, although an increasing number of candidates have been “bought back” in their current roles, staying put rather than taking the opportunity to jump.

Salaries trending North

Salaries as a whole have seen yet another increase this year, across the board in law firms both small and large, with NQ salaries peaking at their highest yet. Candidates securing salaries in the mid to late £50,000s has been common place, and some even as high as £60,000 in a couple of select firms.

Salaries across the board have also seen a decent uplift this year, with a number of firms completing thorough benchmarking exercises, ensuring their existing talent are well remunerated, and benefits packages are more in-line with other competitors in the market.

Overall, recruitment in the North East legal market has been incredibly busy this year and, if current trends are anything to go by, more opportunities for hiring top talent will be coming to the market in 2024, so please keep your eyes peeled for new vacancies on bcllegal.com.

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