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'The shortage of top-calibre legal talent is a growing problem'

YVONNE KELLY (PICTURED) IS MANAGING DIRECTOR OF DUBLIN-BASED KEANE MCDONALD, AN EXECUTIVE SEARCH AND SELECTION FIRM FOCUSING ON LEGAL APPOINTMENTS. SHE RUNS THE RULE OVER THE LEGAL RECRUITMENT SECTOR FOR BIZPLUS.

How was demand in legal recruitment over the last year and what trends have you noticed?

2017 welcomed a significant increase in legal recruitment, mainly due to the healthy economic growth, but also partly due to some prominent international law firms establishing a presence here.

Demand for specialist experience in the fields of commercial property, construction, employment and IP law continued to grow steadily, while the number of requests for experienced investment funds lawyers and financial services regulatory lawyers surged quite dramatically.

Although the demand for in-house legal staff continued to grow steadily, the need for private practice solicitors was remarkably higher in comparison.

Has the upcoming GDPR legislation influenced recruitment trends in the legal sector?

The upcoming GDPR legislation has not yet shown significant change in recruitment trends. However, as recruitment firms rely so heavily on data, the new legislation will clearly hit the sector quite hard.

In order to ensure compliance, most recruitment companies are putting very stringent policies in place, in time for the GDPR launch in May. For example, having a centralised system that handles all candidate and client data will be imperative under GDPR.

What about the availability of legal talent – what trends are you seeing there?

The shortage of top-calibre legal talent is clearly a growing problem as the economy continues to grow. The candidate pool in Ireland is not nearly sufficient for the surge in demand for these professionals. There is increasingly a shift in how and where we find legal talent. The need for legal professionals to return from overseas is enormous.

Have there been any significant movements in legal sector salary ranges?

Salaries in the legal sector continued to show a steady increase in 2017, in particular for recently qualified solicitors up to mid-level associates in the law firms. While the top-tier law firms are managing, for the most part, to keep basic salaries within their set salary bands, many are offering significant bonuses in order to retain and attract strong talent.

Is Brexit having the anticipated impact on legal recruitment thus far?

At the time of the Brexit result, we certainly experienced an upsurge in Irish lawyers looking to return, and indeed many UK lawyers exploring Ireland as a jurisdiction. However, with time and with the uncertainty of who will be most affected, there seems to be less urgency attached to moving.

What about the gender balance in the legal sector. Has this changed much in recent years?

For a number of years now, the gender balance for law graduates has been heavily weighted towards females, at a ratio of roughly 70/30. This trend is continuing without notable change.

What are the in-demand skills-sets expected from new legal graduates?

Some law firms may have their own specific competencies when hiring law graduates. For example, the top law firms require a minimum grade of 2.1 honours in an applicant’s primary degree.

However, some key skills are generally considered essential by all commercial law firms, such as solid analytical and evaluative skills, excellent written and verbal communication skills, a global and commercial mind set, and, above all, passion and resilience. A legal graduate will need to be a team player and to succeed in the demanding world of law must be motivated, determined and driven.