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2015 mid-year market update – private practice – the Regions

The private practice market in the regions has continued the momentum seen in the first three months of 2015 and there are no signs of slowing into the second half of the year. In general, partners are feeling increasingly positive and consequently, head count increases are on the agenda for many in the regions. Recruitment activity continues to remain strong not only due to expansion but also due to replacement of candidates who are taking advantage of a more buoyant market and moving for increased remuneration or career progression. 
The increase in demand for talent has primarily been focused in the 1-5 year PQE space with candidates ideally having a non-contentious bias. We are starting to see high calibre individuals of this ilk receiving multiple offers as well as a significant number of processes collapsing at the final hurdle due to counter offers from current employers.

Hot topic: attracting candidates

We are no longer in a candidate rich market where clients can pick and choose their candidate over a prolonged recruitment process. Candidates have options and are gravitating towards firms with flexible, efficient processes. Top tier candidates are also being offered competitive packages – working from home, relocation allowances, guaranteed secondments and part-time roles are all examples of incentives being offered in order to entice top tier candidates. Law firms now have to be flexible as well as efficient in order to secure talent. 

A candidate short market

Since 2013, private practice in the regions has been characterised as candidate short and as we enter the second half of 2015, not only does this trend show no sign of abating but the balance of power is continuing to move in the candidates’ favour. This does, however, vary depending on the area of expertise and PQE of the individual candidate. 
Corporate and commercial property remain the pressure points for most teams. Partners cannot afford to lose key staff – replacement is both expensive and time consuming. In addition, candidates who have experience in sectors typically associated with city firms, such as financial services, banking and finance and funds, are highly sought after.  
The level of PQE is a big factor in the general desirability of a candidate. Most in demand are lawyers with 5 years PQE or less. The 1-5 year PQE candidate has traditionally been most valuable – they can work with minimal supervision and bill more effectively without costing as much as a more senior employee. Firms that are able to be less prescriptive about PQE and team structure will be able to attract quality candidates more easily.     

Top three tips for employers looking to attract candidates in a short-skilled market

1. Time is of the essence: a well run process is crucial if you are to attract the best talent. This means communicating with candidates more regularly and moving through the process more efficiently. Most firms now get offers out to candidates within 24 hours.
2. Give feedback to all candidates: remember leaving a good impression with all candidates called in for interview is important, especially in the regions where reputation is built up or brought down quickly by word of mouth. 
3. Listen up: effective interviewing involves active listening; a skill many interviewers forget about. Showing you understand a candidate’s priorities makes them feel valued.  It also allows the firm in question to sell specific aspects about their role or the firm which match the prospective candidate’s priorities.  

Salary trends

The top payers are starting to pull away from the pack. They are using the upturn as a way of differentiating themselves from their competitors during the recruitment process. Salary disparity between similar sized firms is substantial and difficult to ignore. To give you an example, this year there was over a £12k difference between what a NQ could get paid at one Top 100 Bristol firm compared to another.  Firms who are unable to compete will lose out on top talent.

Candidate behaviour

With the notable improvement in the market, many candidates are intrigued to know what is on offer elsewhere. In some cases the salary differential is significant, causing inquisitive candidates to become far more serious about making a move. It is important that all parties understand the reasons for the move. Salary alone should be seen as a major red flag to any future employer as this is easily countered by the candidates’ current business. 
This is where your recruitment consultant can really add value. Understanding the candidates’ drivers prior to committing to interview is critical as once they are engaged in a process the reason for the change becomes clouded. The key to success is understanding why a candidate wants to leave their current employer and how you can meet those needs.

Looking ahead

The market will continue to favour non-contentious areas of law such as corporate and commercial property in the regions. While banking, funds and projects work is predominantly undertaken by city firms, regional practices who also specialise in these areas will continue to expand their teams. Another term for the incumbent government minus their coalition partners has provided a welcome boost of certainty and now clients are willing to commit to deals and transactions, previously put on hold. 
We also envisage a greater discrepancy of salaries between firms, especially the top 100. Differentials such as this can no longer be ignored. With all firms exceedingly busy on client driven work and projects, a promise of work-life balance to compensate does not ring true with most candidates. 
Buy back of candidates will increase and many employers will hold candidates to full notice periods to find suitable cover or replacements. 
These are difficult and exciting times for employers. However, with the right mindset and processes in place, 2015 doesn’t have to be a year of near misses.
Are you looking to take the next step in your legal career? Are you looking to hire lawyers in the regions? Or are you simply looking for some further advice on the legal recruitment market? Contact Josh Kanakam, senior consultant at Michael Page Legal for a confidential discussion.
T: +44 1189559056