If we are looking for a positive indicator that the legal sectors in Scotland and Ireland are recovering from the recession, we need to look no further that what is currently happening in the newly qualified lawyer market.
In recent years we have watched as law firms were forced to significantly reduce the intake of trainee lawyers and subsequently the number of post-qualification opportunities. NQ roles were very thin on the ground between 2009 and 2011 and it has had a certain knock on effect now creating a skill shortage of candidates with circa 3 years PQE across all disciplines. Lawyers qualifying during this period were faced with some harsh decisions. While some have moved into different areas of law than those they originally planned, others have now left the professional permanently.
In the last two years, renewed and steady confidence meant that most firms had growing retention levels and a higher number of NQ lawyers had the chance to be retained by their own firm.
This September we find the scales have tipped again. For the first time since before the recession, we are finding that some firms are still actively recruiting laterally at NQ level beyond the qualification date of the majority of newly qualified lawyers. Many firms have discovered that an increase in work has resulted in a need to have more junior lawyers onboard to meet client demands. Some firms have found certain transactional teams harder to recruit for especially in banking and real estate. This has been primarily as a result of there now being more opportunities for NQ’s in other areas such as litigation, insolvency, employment and private client. Some firms quite simply did not have enough of their own trainees as a result of a reduced intake in recent years.
It is challenging for the firms right now who are trying to recruit at this level. Most NQ’s will have secured a position and it is of course too early for the majority to be considering a move. What is does do however is to allow NQ’s to think about their current situation and those who have compromised on location or discipline now have options. Indeed, lawyers interested in a move to London or overseas, where normally competition is exceptionally high at NQ level, will current find firms in the City, Dubai, Hong Kong and Offshore currently looking to fill positions laterally.
There are lots of positives to talk about. More opportunities for NQ’s is without question great news. NQ’s this year will have had more choice and more options to move into the areas they wanted to, allowing them to start their careers as they mean to go on. Forward thinking firms will also be looking ahead to 2015, ensuring their internal resources will meet demand. Finally, for lawyers qualifying in the next few years, we would feel very optimistic about their future options.