Whilst rocky at times 2020 was surprisingly buoyant although the Covid times did not start pleasantly. In February it had become apparent that Coronavirus was going to have an impact on the economy and by extension the legal job market, but it was in March that the shock really hit. The initial lockdown created uncertainty, panic, and the need to transition to home working, virtually all ‘business as usual’ recruitment was put on hold. There was still some recruitment at a senior level, often for longstanding strategic appointments, or where there the individual brought a business case with them that would help develop the firm.
However, upwards of 90% of new recruitment was cancelled or put on hold. Most firms behaved impeccably in relation to any new recruits that they had already committed to, they found ways to induct and onboard their new recruits and we had positive feedback on this experience.
By June, many firms had realised that workflows, in most areas, were at healthy levels and started to recruit once again. This was reinforced by firms recording a surprisingly healthy financial performance for the first half of the year. By September we found ourselves in the strange position where there were more roles than immediately pre Covid.
Insolvency lawyers have been busy throughout the year and as the effects of Covid impacted the economy we saw a good number growth related job opportunity. From conversations with our clients this is likely to continue both on the contentious and non-contentious side. Insolvency has always been a fairly candidate short market and as demand for the skill set increases, we have seen firms being creative to attract quality candidates.
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The overall demand in areas of law such as corporate, commercial, and intellectual property have been relatively steady throughout the pandemic. Generally, firms were relatively cautious about recruitment in the initial stages and have grown more confidence as the months have passed. It feels like there has firms have ‘under recruited’ and these feels like it is being rectified as we are seeing several new corporate role instructions at varying qualification levels in recent months. Most of these falling with firms more medium sized firms as is often the way. The larger and international practices have become more adept than ever at getting their lawyers working on a national basis, however, even after spreading work internally in a more efficient manner we are seeing them increasingly start to recruit as workflow remains strong and, in many cases, grows. Commercial roles have been more commonplace, we saw many in-house opportunities during the first lockdown and then since the summer have seen a number of practice firms following suit. It was initially mainly with smaller to medium sized firms however, we are currently working on a number of roles with national firms. Other commercial disciplines such as intellectual property and projects seem to have remained steady, although this has not resulted in a huge number of roles yet. We anticipate this will happen more as we get into 2021. The In-house market has been arguably the most difficult to predict and whilst it is certainly true that certain sectors have been affected negatively because of the pandemic, we have nonetheless witnessed a good flow of positions broadly evenly split in terms of new and replacement roles. What has been most notable however, is the diversity of the skills sought and we have seen several roles in Property, Employment, and IP, although the staple remains non-contentious company commercial.
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We have seen a real increase in demand for family solicitors over the last few months. As you will probably have experienced, family law is extremely busy both in matrimonial and childcare. We’re hearing that proceedings are taking longer, and the courts are busy. With hearings being held remotely in some cases, it has inevitably changed the pace in which matters can be heard. Interestingly, from what clients and family solicitors have said, this may be a longer-term change to how cases are handled in the future, where appropriate.
We have found some reading on this below:
Over the autumn and going into the winter and beyond, the market has really picked up with firms identifying family as being one of their most profitable areas and are looking to continue growing this even more. With that said, family lawyers who are looking for a new role and, on the market, often find themselves in positions where they have the option of choosing between a number of firms as to where they want their next career move to be.
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In terms of Residential Conveyancing, initially, clients were concerned that the boom of work they were encountering would be short term and many suspected that the work would fall off. Naturally, therefore, firms were initially cautious about recruitment into residential conveyancing teams even though fee earners were at capacity. They wanted to be confident this was a long-term influx in work. We are pleased to say that with various factors in consideration, such as the changes to stamp duty, the influx in work is here to stay. Reports from both private practice and Housebuilders is that the property market is buoyant and looks set to remain for the foreseeable. Similarly, with Commercial Property there was some initial hesitancy at the outset of the first lockdown. However, many clients reported that most instructions did eventually get completed, some were just delayed. What has also materialised is an upturn in specific areas of commercial property. There have been a lot of transactions around restructuring and refinancing has really picked up again. Unlike in other economic downturns, banks have continued to lend, combined with interest rates remaining low confidence has remained in the property market. Naturally, the leisure and retail sectors have been hit hard and where firms focussed on these there have been more challenges, Firms have adapted impressively to the changes within the commercial property market, they are continuing to drive forwards and reporting great success and increased profit.
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We have been in touch with Construction Lawyers throughout the year both as clients and candidates, and they have remained busy. For some the type of work altered temporarily however we haven’t spoken to one Construction Lawyer who has had a quiet year, in fact many are reporting that they are now busier than ever.
We have consistently been working on construction roles and at all levels of qualification. These have largely been within Private Practice and there is still plenty of interest in lawyers with both contentious and non-contentious, at all levels.
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Private Client has been one area of law that has been consistently busy throughout the year; impacting many firms’ need to recruit in order to manage the workload and maintain the services they offer their clients. It has gone from strength to strength for most, with clients experiencing the need for people to arrange their own, and their families, personal matters becoming something of a priority. The same has been particularly relevant for niche specialisms including Contentious Probate and Court of Protection. According to most, the reason for this is due to the increase and stability in rates alongside the fact that they are seeing an increase/focus on their catastrophic injury and clinical negligence work which goes hand-in-hand with their Court of Protection offerings, impacting the level of work and, in turn, the need to expand. Thankfully, this shows no sign of slowing down and we expect the same demand to continue well into 2021.
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As suspected, the market for employment law roles has been very busy. We have possibly had more Newly Qualified positions in this area than normal, together with positions at other varying levels including senior level roles. The vacancies have been in a variety of different size firms from small boutique practices to large national law firms. Whilst a number of roles have been weighted towards contentious work, we have also seen a number of mixed contentious and non-contentious jobs. A larger proportion of the roles have been for firms acting solely or predominantly for respondent clients, but we have also been instructed on a reasonable number of claimant employment positions. Firms acting for healthcare, trade unions and public sector organisations have really seen their workloads increase, although this also applies to several firms acting for general corporate clients. It has certainly been and continues to be a very positive market for new expansionary roles.
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Commercial Litigation has remained consistently busy and has accounted for the majority of commercially focused roles we have placed across Sacco Mann over the last 3 months. We have seen roles cropping up at all tiers of law firm at a range of qualification levels, from Newly Qualified right through to Partner level opportunities. Whilst some roles have been replacement, we are also seeing growth recruitment happening in response to heavy work volumes, which is really encouraging. We have seen movement across Property Litigation despite possession proceedings being stayed and anticipate that this will only pick up further as we move into the new year. Insurance Litigation, particularly relating to professional negligence, has seen a consistent stream of roles recently with most major players looking to add to their teams.
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Naturally, some lawyers that we have acted for have been more cautious about whether now is the ‘right’ time to make a move, however, it’s been great to be able to assure people that it isn’t as ‘doom and gloom’ as you might expect and that there is plenty of demand within the market.
The recruitment we are seeing law firms undertake now is well thought out and carefully considered and we have unsurprisingly seen a dramatic shift towards roles offering significant ‘working from home’ opportunity which has opened opportunities to candidates they previously may not have been able to consider. We are carefully assessing which firms will persist with working from home post Covid (surprisingly not all will) as this is a key criteria for many of our candidates.
Of course, this year has been difficult for many. Whilst most of the redundancies we have seen have been at a non-fee earning level, the uncertainty there was in the Spring was a challenge however, it has been hugely comforting to see that the legal market has been robust, it has adapted to the ever-changing conditions incredibly well.
More so than ever the next few months are going to offer some unique and interesting opportunities. We are really looking forward to 2021 and expect to be able to deliver some great opportunities to our candidates. With the breadth and depth of our contacts we are ideally placed to understand the market and the opportunities it provides. If you are interested in a confidential conversation about the changes we have seen within the market, whether or not you are considering moving roles, then please do get in touch.
We wish you a prosperous 2021.