Legal Job Market Update dated March 4th 2015
February has been a month of two halves as usual. We spend the first week watching the post-Christmas recruitment spike recede and then skiing holidays together with half term breaks kicking in. Locum work has dropped off towards the end of the month, although we have taken a number of bookings for later in the year. Most locum assignments coming in are either firms looking to expand and take on additional fee earners whilst there is plenty of work, or alternatively it is sick leave cover. The winter season generates the largest number of sick leave assignments, although this is probably not surprising.
Permanent vacancies are up, which is always good. However this month we have seen a rise in the number of firms contacting us for self-employed consultant roles – not something that has been very common for quite some time. These tend not to be regarded as good quality vacancies by candidates.
Salary levels are a bit mixed as well. Some firms are expecting candidates to take similar salary ranges to existing staff and are not budging at all on these, but other firms are taking a more pragmatic approach. If a solicitor indicates an interest in their vacancy and is the only solicitor to take an interest, salary levels are probably going to have to match the applicant’s expectations if they want to recruit. There is also still a lack of awareness that candidates do not move for the same salary or less unless they are desperate. Career moves inevitably result in a pay rise.
We think that that in 2015 we will start seeing salary levels going up, after all there haven’t really been any major increases in salaries for solicitors for a good number of years, but this is not evident at the present time in legal job vacancy advertising generally.
Most high street vacancies are still coming in at around the £30-45k mark, even though on £45k you cannot afford a mortgage on more than a single room apartment in most parts of London. We still get firms requesting locally based solicitors for central London and then offering salaries of £30k.
Conveyancing has gone a bit quieter but there is a clear lack of good candidates. By good candidates I mean those that are based locally to the firm, have a steady employment history and reasonable salary expectations. Interestingly this month we have seen a few conveyancing candidates becoming available after their firms have let them go. There is no obvious reason for this.
Wills & probate is busy but there is a discrepancy between salary expectations and salaries being offered. This may well resolve itself later in the year.
Commercial property is very similar. I sense a growing number of vacancies going unfilled as there is such a dearth of candidates for them. In particular there is a dearth of applicants prepared to work for the wages being offered.
Family law has gone extremely quiet. We have picked up a family locum assignment in the Falkland Islands for 2 months in May if anyone fancies it – you fly out on a military plane and stay in Stanley to deal with the work before flying home again 2 months later. Apparently the islands are beautiful at this time of year. See below.
Crime is almost non-existent. In some ways we enjoy this – doing crime recruitment has always been a bit adversarial – partners seem to struggle to switch off from the court room when dealing with recruiters, although I appreciate we must sometimes feel lik the enemy!
Litigation – both civil and commercial – is very quiet. Not a lot going on at all. Corporate commercial comes in bursts for us. We are never going to be the type of agency to recruit partners into city firms and we tend to do more on the high street and in house. Both are quiet at the moment.
Employment law work seems to have all but disappeared. We are starting to see solicitors at all levels of the legal profession seeking work – from partners of city firms down to high street – as the fees for employment tribunals kick in and redundancies occur. Still seems strange that in a time when the economy is picking up there are areas of law where it is a struggle to get employment.
It will be interesting to see how the new court fees for civil claims affect recruitment in this area, although surely the future now has to be alternative dispute resolution for claims over £20k, avoiding the courts at all costs? I seem to recall fee hikes in the 1990s, with warnings of impending collapse of all litigation work, but that never happened.
Work will get very busy in the next two weeks, with the lead up to Easter, but then as we go into Easter we enter the zombie phase of recruitment – this tends to be the quietest time for recruiters apart from Christmas. Firms are too busy dealing with the year end, clients are too busy dealing with the Easter break, and candidates are presumably fairly busy eating Easter Eggs…
March 2015 – Summary:
* Permanent vacancies up
* Locum assignments down
* Conveyancing vacancies busy, Commercial Property vacancies very busy
* Wills & Probate vacancies up
* Commercial and Civil Litigation vacancies – still very few
* Family vacancies – down
* Commercial Property Solicitors now very difficult to source. Experienced and reliable conveyancers difficult to find for permanent roles. Locums still available in all fields, although getting harder to source for Wills & Probate.
* Market outlook – increasing.
Recently agreed hourly rates:
* London – Litigation Locum – £25 per hour
* Surrey – Conveyancing Locum – £28 per hour
* Leeds – Property Locum – £30 per hour
* Surrey – Conveyancing Locum Ongoing – £30 per hour
Current live vacancies: 546
New permanent vacancies added last month: 26
New candidates registering: 97
Average ‘Job Strength Factor’ for new vacancies last month: 3
Increase/Decrease in new vacancies from previous month: +1.9%
Increase/Decrease in new candidates from previous month: -20%
Ten-Percent Legal Recruitment publishes the number of new vacancies, new candidates and indicate the increase or decrease from the previous month. We aim to assist the legal profession by showing the market from our perspective. Traditionally our clients have been high street law firms and smaller niche commercial practices.
The average job strength gives a good indication of the market because:
1. A Poor Job Strength on vacancies indicates a struggling market. When trade is bad, employers seek options for increasing turnover which usually also involves contacting recruitment agencies in the hope that they have candidates with their own following and not looking for a salary.
2. A Strong Job Strength on vacancies indicates a buoyant market, particularly if it is in connection with an increase in numbers of new vacancies.
Vacancies are each graded 1-5, with 5 being a very strong vacancy and 1 being a very weak vacancy.
Jonathan Fagan is Managing Director of Ten-Percent Legal Recruitment and regularly writes for the Ten-Percent website and the Legal Recruitment blog, an award-winning selection of articles and features on legal recruitment and the legal profession. You can contact Jonathan at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit one of our websites.