in Legal Job Market Reports

Legal Job Market Update – February 5th 2014

Job Market Update – February 6th 2014

2014 has been a bit wobbly to date. I think recruitment agencies are probably a fairly good barometer of the economy, and so far I have to say that 2014 has started strongly, but not as much as it finished off at the end of 2013.

This is backed up by the January CIPS and Markit Services Sector Report (we contribute as panel members to this report and also the KPMG recruitment market report). Key highlights from this are:

  1. New business growth down to lowest in eight months
  2. Capacity under pressure as backlogs rise to greatest degree since May 1997
  3. Business confidence at the highest level since March 2010

The fact that business confidence is at the highest level since March 2010 probably doesn’t say much at all, being that 2010 was a pretty awful year!

In the legal sector conveyancing has been the driving force behind recruitment in recent months. In November we enjoyed our busiest month of the year, and also our busiest month since October 2007 generally. The vast majority of the work coming through was for conveyancing, mainly residential. At the moment it seems to be wills & probate.

I have seen this increase in conveyancing work first hand. Our own solicitors in Chester handled a house purchase for me over the last 3 months and I know that the workload is so heavy the firm are using locums to back up the permanent team. This has been the case elsewhere.

A strange set of circumstances happened this month, something that from now on will be called the “Manchester Mystery” within the Ten-Percent group. At the start of January, for a period of about 5-6 days, six greater Manchester solicitors firms telephoned us and asked for locum staff. These were property related vacancies. All of these were urgent locum vacancies and we worked hard to get CVs through to each one (our locum service currently has a ‘100% CV supply within 36 hours’ record for locum vacancies sent to us since 2010). We managed to get locums through but on each occasion the solicitors firm decided not to go ahead for a range of reasons, including a review of service provision. By the sixth assignment registration we were starting to get a bit cynical with the firms when they telephoned to log the posts and said they were in Manchester! What was going on? Did one firm get the idea that the market was picking up and they were going to need additional staff? At this point did they mention it in passing to other local firms who then panicked and thought they needed additional staff as well? All very odd.

Nationally conveyancing is still busy but mainly on the temporary side. Permanent recruitment has still not picked up, although a number of vacancies are coming through. Interestingly quite a few temporary posts are really permanent posts in disguise, as firms seek to recruit on 6-12 month contracts and see whether business continues to pick up.

Wills & Probate is currently busier than it was a few months ago, although we currently have quite a few wills & probate candidates registering for work on the permanent side.

We have started to see a number of redundancies coming in again for personal injury work, litigation and any remaining LSC funded areas. Family law seems to have been all but decimated in recent times – LSC cuts followed up with a drop off in work has resulted in a lot of 50+ year olds out on the streets and starting to look for temporary contracts. Not a good place to be.

Commercial work remains very hit and miss. A quick look at the vacancies in the Gazette and The Lawyer will give you an idea of vacancy numbers. We are not seeing many redundancies now but there certainly doesn’t seem to be the booming numbers of expanding commercial law firms at the moment.

In house legal posts are still coming in, although companies tend to recruit using the big three multi-practice area recruiters rather than specialists like ourselves.

Legal support vacancies are a funny area. I always thought that by 2014 our separate transcription company – www.tptranscription.co.uk – would be taking large bulk orders and legal secretaries would mainly be working from home for people like ourselves on an ad hoc basis. This could not be further from reality. The vast majority of work is still carried out on site for most small-medium law firms and outsourcing remains something not yet very common.

Receptionist and legal secretary posts remain strong, although quite a few law firms seem to want to recruit legal secretaries who also do fee earning work, particularly in conveyancing.

Market prospects? Probably still good and much better than they were at the start of 2013. How long are they likely to last? Hard to tell. Is this all just a bubble linked to a busier housing market or something more sustainable. I suspect that we are in for a few years growth at the very least. Make hay whilst the sun shines…

Jonathan Fagan is Managing Director of Ten-Percent Legal Recruitment and regularly writes the Legal Recruitment blog, an award-winning selection of articles and features on legal recruitment and the legal profession. You can contact Jonathan at cv@ten-percent.co.uk or visit one of our websites.

Jonathan Fagan

Jonathan Fagan LLM FIRP is Managing Director of Ten-Percent Legal Recruitment. He has been recruiting solicitors and legal support staff for law firms and in house legal departments for over 17 years and handles roles from junior fee earners through to partners and law firm sales/purchases. A non-practising solicitor on the Roll since 2000, he is also the author of a number of legal career books, which are available at www.legalcareercoaching.co.uk. You can contact Jonathan at cv@ten-percent.co.uk