Tony Brooke’s view: the legal job market in January

Welcome to my first blog of the 2017 ‘Newly Qualified’ season. Here I’ll be sharing my observations of the legal landscape each month, great or modest, just to help those 2017 qualifiers to keep in touch with what we’re seeing the legal job market doing. Hopefully it’ll be useful…!


2017 is off to a flying start!

We’ve seen 2017 start with a bang – lots of activity, jobs flying about and interviews landing – so, from where we’re sitting as recruiters, we can see plenty of good reasons to be positive. March 2017 qualifiers are finding interviews and opportunities, and in January we’ve seen placements of several 1yrPQE lawyers who’ve stayed put on qualification and then achieved significant steps up now that they’ve a bit of PQE to offer – that decision has paid off for those individuals.

The in-house market also seems to be interested in NQ-1yrPQE candidates at the moment; balancing that, we’ve seen an increase in the number of trainees who’ve got secondment experience to offer, so I’d say “well played” to those candidates as that will stand them in good stead.

We’re cautiously optimistic that the feel-good start to the year will filter down to the September 2017 Newly Qualified lawyers, but with Brexit influencing market confidence I am expecting a turbulent year: law firms are cautious beasts, and are unlikely to take risks in a potentially unstable economic climate.


Firms are on with it…

From the clients we speak to regularly, we’re getting the picture that their focus right now is most definitely internal. Many Top 100 brands aren’t currently requesting CVs for external September qualifiers – if you qualify in September then you are not missing out on external opportunities with these firms, so don’t panic! We’ve had an instance of an HR team sense-checking their recruitment timescales with us, as they’re conscious that they don’t want to lose the second-year trainees they have invested in for the past 16 months, so retention is high on the agenda.

In several of the Top 100 firms we work with, their graduate teams or HR department are liaising with the partners on next steps, and recruitment budgets are being looked at – it’s happening behind the scenes even if the trainees don’t know it. The decision-making process behind NQ recruitment does take time, and firms are right to only present opportunities when all the necessary parties have agreed that there is a sustainable business case for those NQ roles.


A few early commitments

I spoke to a handful of firms in January who have already committed to some (not all) of their second-year trainees for September. However, in my view those candidates are the lucky few: in those cases, the firms had the pressure of enough work to justify the decision, as well as showing interest in recruiting towards the end of 2016, and so have decided to meet their needs from proven internal options – a logical resourcing tactic which really comes into focus now we’re into the new year.

Incidentally, the firms I spoke to who had made this call are regional rather than national practices – they have fewer trainees already on board, and are a little freer in their decision-making than if there were multi-site national brands with a system to follow. Smaller firms can be a bit more agile in these things, which can have benefits for those who are already training with them.


Anything to look at yet?

Currently, I only know of one Top 20 brand which is accepting direct CVs by way of online advertising (I won’t name them, because they don’t currently require agency assistance!). Those efforts appear to be fairly generic: rather than detailing particular roles in specific locations, it’s more an opportunity for trainees to express their interest in roles in certain fields of law.

How the firm will respond to applicants or conduct any recruitment process I don’t know – it’s up to the candidates who apply to find out! I know that firms who tried to recruit NQs directly in 2016 found it exhausting as the market moves too quickly. There is a really compelling argument for leaving it to NQ recruitment specialists like myself – but then again it is what I do and have done since 1999, so I’m bound to back myself!


That’s my round-up of the NQ market for January – now it’s time to crack on. I’ll report back on February’s NQ market activity at the start of next month, and if you’ve any specific questions in the meantime then feel to contact me directly.

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