Nick Fear, manager in BCL Legal’s Midlands team

What have been the main trends/ developments in your region/ sector over the past 12 months?
From the Birmingham office we cover the East, West and South Midlands markets which include large cities such as Birmingham, Nottingham, Leicester, Cambridge, Milton Keynes and Oxford. Our market is very diverse including international, national as well as strong regional and more high street firms. In the last 12 months, we have seen a massive upswing in recruitment levels. This is with firms of all sizes and shapes. We are currently tracking something in the region of a 200% increase in the number of vacancies with private practice law firms.

The effects of the recession are still being felt as there is a lack of candidates with between two and six years’ PQE. This is an issue as most firms are trying to recruit people at this level to fill gaps in their teams. However, firms are becoming increasingly flexible in their recruitment drives.

The trend of mergers and acquisitions has continued, whilst we have also had new entrants in the Midlands. This again is putting further pressure on the candidate short market. Salaries have remained reasonably static and where we have seen increases they have been very small.

BCL Legal in Birmingham has tripled in size this year with further growth planned for January next year. We are now easily the largest team covering permanent private practice recruitment in the Midlands with most of our clients reporting that we are their leading suppliers of qualified solicitors.

What have been the real growth areas and where has the demand been coming from?
2014 has been the year of the property solicitor. We have seen an incredible demand particularly from teams specialising in commercial and residential development work. More latterly this has spread into the construction and social housing areas.

In the first half of the year, residential conveyancing was very busy with a massive demand for candidates most likely fuelled by the various government incentives such as Help to Buy. This demand seems to have cooled in the later part of the year. The last six months has seen a growing trend for recruitment into corporate, banking and commercial areas. This seems to be tracking an improved economic climate and a greater willingness of lenders to supply finance. Insurance has also remained busy as we have seen continuing demand for solicitors with experience in professional indemnity, defendant clinical negligence and defendant personal injury experience.

What have been the key stories that have dominated your region/ sector?
The major story has been the merger between Wragge and Co and Lawrence Graham. Rumours were rife about whether the merged firm would continue to focus its operation in Birmingham. So far it seems to be business as usual which is great to see!

A close second is Hogan Lovells’ decision to open a new office in Birmingham. It’s always exciting to have a firm with such a prestigious reputation move into the market and the news created quite a bit of excitement in the legal community. Having already recruited several people, it is due to open the office in the New Year. Other stories include Squire Sanders merging with Patton Boggs and Slater and Gordon’s purchase of Russell Jones & Walker and its merger with Fentons.

What are your predictions for your region/ sector for 2015?
2015 is likely to see a continuation in the upward trend of recruitment into commercial property, corporate, commercial and banking, whilst insurance recruitment is likely to remain steady. It’s almost inconceivable that the salaries will continue to be so static. As the war for talent intensifies the impact for some firms of not recruiting is likely to become so severe that they have to try to tempt people with higher salaries. Also, the numbers of lawyers leaving private practice for higher paid in-house positions is at record levels. The potential implication of this for leading law firms is quite worrying.

We are hopeful that the proposed changes in SDLT will lead to further growth in the residential property market. Certainly attempts to increase the numbers of new build houses should also help this market.

Finally, employers will have to continue to be highly flexible and creative in their attempts to fill positions - particularly if they are looking for solicitors who qualified between 2008 and 2012.

How would you sum up 2014 in one sentence?
It’s been BCL Legal Birmingham’s best year ever.