Following at least six years of steady growth in the recruitment industry, the onslaught of Covid-19 brought the steepest decline to the sector since the 2009 recession. While some sectors have maintained a certain stability, the legal sector saw a sudden halt in recruitment in March. A domino effect of salary cuts, reduced working hours, bonus cancellations and, in a few cases, redundancies followed.
With the country swiftly plunged into a strict lockdown, hiring freezes were introduced by the majority of law firms, many financial institutions and corporates across a number of sectors. The focus for these employers was on managing the logistics of their employees working remotely. For the most part this was considered a success, and the efficiency with which people adapted to such an environment has likely changed the landscape of agile and remote working forever more.
As the country moved though the stages of lockdown, and with a growing sentiment of ‘it’s time to get back to business’, green shoots emerged from a hiring perspective. Organisations felt comfortable that new lawyers could be successfully hired and onboarded remotely. The adaptability of businesses and their employees has shown that work can, and must, go on. Interestingly, however, the areas of demand have changed quite significantly, mirroring how certain industries have been affected by the pandemic.
According to Mia Barry, Commercial Director at Keane McDonald, many buoyant legal specialisations in the past five or six years are no longer in demand. The aviation industry, for example, has fallen off a cliff and there is no longer the urgent need for lawyers with such experience. Six months ago, these lawyers could practically ‘name their price’.
As recently as February, corporate lawyers could often have an offer from any firm they wished. Firms will now only hire an M&A lawyer where an actual vacancy exists. According to Barry, litigation, healthcare, employment, insurance and IT/IP are the new ‘in demand’ areas.
Keane McDonald Commercial Director, Mared Roberts, has noticed a significant decrease in opportunities for in-house lawyers in certain specialisations. Roberts says that, similar to practice, there is still a need for experienced data protection and IT lawyers, while the opportunities for corporate transactions lawyers and general legal advisors is lower than usual. Compliance is still considered an ‘in demand’ area according to Roberts.
From a recruitment perspective, there has been a sudden shift from the candidate-driven market we have become accustomed to in recent years, says Kelly. With fewer jobs and more candidates available in certain sectors, lawyers seeking a career move will need to be more proactive.
Those who qualified in the last six years will have previously experienced numerous approaches from recruiters. Many of these lawyers, who are no longer in high demand but are seeking a career move, will need to step outside their comfort zone and take charge of their job search in order to really stand out in the crowd. This will be a complete mindset change, especially for many of the more junior lawyers.
While Covid-19 has wreaked havoc on the legal recruitment industry, there are many positives emerging in the sector. Salaries have stabilised and agile working works! Many progressive employers are seeing that now is the time to snap up the top calibre lawyers while their competitors hold off on hiring due to market uncertainties. The tide will turn again, it is just a matter of when!
Keane McDonald is an international executive recruitment firm focusing on legal and compliance appointments in Europe, the Middle East, Asia and Australia.