Mary Nowell, Managing Director, discusses the national private practice market in 2023 and shares her predictions for the coming year

From Mary Nowell

2023 was a year of consolidation following two years of unprecedented hiring within the legal market. We saw a marked slowdown in vacancies and a drop-off in candidate demand across most discipline areas.

Vacancysoft, in conjunction with search, confirms that job openings were down 35.5 per cent year-on-year and, as such, this has been the quietest year for top-tier UK law firm recruitment since the pandemic.

Corporate and property challenges

Given the current situation with interest rates and the global decline in M&A, the hardest hit areas are undoubtedly corporate and property. Hiring within corporate has declined by over 50 per cent in 2023 as a direct impact of worldwide mergers and acquisitions being at the lowest level for over a decade.

We have seen a trickle of redundancies across the city with Dechert and CMS trimming their associate ranks. It’s a similar story within property, with both real estate and residential conveyancing hit hard as the impact of increased interest rates has taken hold.

We have seen a raft of redundancies in volume residential conveyancing firms and, just last month, Trowers announced redundancies within their national real estate team.

Stabilising salaries

2023 has also seen widespread stabilisation on salaries. Yes, candidates have been able to secure a pay rise in order to move position, but there has been a move away from large pay increases, unprecedented pay hikes to retain staff and large increases in newly qualified salaries.

All decisions around pay scales are now much more considered and in line with existing internal bands.

An uncertain outlook

So, what next for 2024? Many of the predictions point to continued economic uncertainty, certainly in the first half of 2024. Interest rates look set to hold steady in a continued attempt to tackle inflation.

It is far from a story of “doom and gloom” though! BCL Legal has placed a similar number of legal professionals this year as last, showing that there is opportunity for the right people.

We have placed in all discipline areas, and those that have faced redundancies have quickly received alternative positions. It demonstrates just how resilient the UK legal market is.

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