James Brewster - business manager at BCL Legal – on the Midlands market...

What have been the main trends/ developments in your region over the past 12 months?
2013 has certainly seen an increase in legal vacancies across the board. Birmingham has historically been fortunate enough to be home to highly rated commercial property practices and since the recession they have steadily expanded their numbers on the back of client demands. Many of these teams have recognised a lack of lawyers at the two to four years’ PQE level. This is because trainees weren’t retained during the recession and the only way to resolve the issue has been to recruit at the NQ level.

The residential conveyancing market has also seen an upturn in activity on the back of a resurgent housing market. Corporate/ commercial roles have steadily increased thanks to a more buoyant corporate market and we have seen a steady increase in catastrophic personal injury roles at the large defendant insurance firms as well as lower level paralegal positions.

Salaries have remained fairly static but where firms have been under pressure to recruit there has been more flexibility on offer; particularly at the two years’ plus PQE level. Employment law and criminal law vacancies have been few and far between - along with family law roles - although we have seen a slight spike in roles where children panel membership is a pre-requisite. Private client/ probate has seen a steady increase during the last six months.

What have been the real growth areas and where has the demand been coming from?
Commercial property, corporate, residential conveyancing and insurance litigation - particularly in respect to large loss/catastrophic injury vacancies - have been the real growth areas of note.

What have been the key stories that have dominated your sector?
Mergers have led the way including DWF and Cobbetts; Wragges and Lawrence Graham; DAC Beachcroft and Morgan Cole; Plexus and Greenwoods; Kimbells and Freeth along with Shakespeares and Harvey Ingram. Other high profile stories have included part of Eversheds’ commercial property team of six joining Shakespeares; multiple teams from DLA joining DWF, Mills & Reeve, Eversheds and Squire Sanders; along with the break-up of Challinors and Blakemores’ demise into administration.

Finally, the resurgence in the claimant PI market after a lull in activity on the back of Jackson and the dominance of investment backed PI firms such as Slater & Gordon and Quindell.

What are your predictions for your region/ sector for 2014?
There seems no reason to think that the market should be anything but even more busy in 2014. The message from our clients seems very much about continued growth in the areas outlined above. We have a general election on the horizon and that could cause a degree of uncertainty so that is something to keep in mind. The claimant PI sector is set for an increase in recruitment now that the market is left with a handful of firms that have adopted ABS models – especially as these have been extremely acquisitive up and down the country.

How would you sum up 2013 in one sentence?
It’s been an excellent year with larger than expected volumes of recruitment across a handful of key sectors.

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