Tony Brooke’s view: the NQ solicitor jobs market in January

As the 2019 NQ season gets underway, director Tony Brooke shares his thoughts on the jobs market for newly qualified solicitors. 

Welcome to my first monthly NQ market commentary of 2019. This is the third year I’ve followed this practice to keep NQs in touch with what we are seeing in the NQ market, as feedback tells us this information is invaluable at a most unfamiliar time in your legal career. As in previous years, I’m a good week late writing this first blog as I’ve been caught out with January flying by, but I’ll get more punctual as we get into the year!

Familiar territory for us

Fortunately as a lawyer you’ll only be immersed in this NQ angst once, whereas we legal recruiters witness it every year! For me this is the 20th year I’ll have been through the NQ mill, and whilst it doesn’t get any less stressful, there are strong themes every year without fail and so that experience and awareness can be of benefit of newly qualifying lawyers.

Nothing (with the very tiny event of Brexit) that you will experience is ‘new’ in the next nine months and so I have every confidence you’ll navigate your way through your qualification process and job search.

For what it’s worth, candidates who are qualifying in January, February and March have been receiving offers in the fields they’ve wanted, so the market is performing, but the proper test will of course be for the vast majority of lawyers who will qualify in September.

NQs getting aboard

As we’d expect, January has seen 2019 NQs coming to us to register, find out what we’re about, and generally familiarise themselves with Brooke Thornham as a recruitment business. Right from the start we offer pragmatic advice and guidance, so whilst there aren’t stacks of jobs appearing yet there’s plenty for NQs to learn and to get a better appreciation of.

As a shameless plug, if you’ve not been to our specific NQ web page and helped yourself to various free downloads containing advice on everything from the market to salaries, writing CVs and preparing for interview then you’d be well advised to take advantage of those resources. We have always had great feedback in previous years so we’re sure of its value.

Interestingly in January, the flow of NQs to Brooke Thornham has been from the larger firms and those in the Top 100, rather than regional firms. We’ve even had City candidates approaching us as they’re anticipating that the regional offices of big firms might be more decisive and opportunistic than London brands, which is an interesting notion and perhaps a reflection of a sluggish London appetite for NQs just at the moment.

We’d expect an increasing number of NQ candidates through February and March as people start to focus on September, moving into final trainee seats, and becoming more aware of noises (or lack of) being made by their own firm about opportunities and of the action their contemporaries are taking in order to get themselves in a good position in the jobs market.

Whilst it is a busy time of year for September NQs, it is vital not to panic as the market is not moving in earnest yet. Stay calm, be logical, but start focusing and committing some time to getting organised.

What is the market saying?

In short, there isn’t a consistent message right now from the market. We’ve some firms who’ve not yet given any thought to September qualifiers; others I know (mid-tier firms as it happens) have already made the odd internal offer for September, which is brilliant. And others have a rough idea of who they want to retain but have not yet done anything official by way of engaging in an internal process with their NQs.

Of course there are some declared roles, typically with firms who know they don’t have sufficient internal qualifiers to meet demand. Those brands may as well share those requirements now, right at the start of the ‘NQ season’ when they’ve a greater pool of candidates to hope to attract.

There are two big pre-occupations this year, one of which is annual, and one of which is a one-off. The first of those is financial year end – now we’re into the last financial quarter for many firms, they are getting a sense for how the last year has been and looking at projections and budgets for the coming year. If it’s been a good year then usually projections can be bullish and the appetite to recruit NQs can be strong. That’s what we’d expect, only this year is a little more complicated.

In 2019 the second much more significant preoccupation is Brexit…. blooming Brexit…. bloody Brexit….b*!%ard Brexit – and many more ever-colourful expletives that can be used to that effect! Don’t get me wrong, it is creating some work for lawyers with many firms offering best-guess guidance on what could or should happen, but it is creating far more uncertainty.

Confidence is key

The recruitment market thrives on certainty and confidence, and so the weaker that confidence the more jittery the market becomes. Financial markets, property prices, the cost of imported goods from lemons to life saving drugs are all in the balance, and with the constant media focus it is certainly something which is influencing decisions: be they major or relatively minor.

In my career I have seen market highs and lows. The first thing firms do in a weakening market is stop recruiting as wages are a significant part of their running costs and so immediate cost control makes sense and is easy to achieve. Even with the Brexit vote in 2016 we saw a 40% reduction in vacancies with the larger firms, they simply “pressed pause” and it took the best part of six months to rectify itself.

The difference between 2019 and 2016 is that, back then, I don’t think anybody really thought it could happen so there was genuine shock. Whereas in 2019 there has been much more practical thinking around Brexit and, one would presume, planning. Whilst I am not expecting it to be an easy market to predict this year there will be NQ opportunities, there always are, but the number and fields of law will vary year to year.

Our advice to you

Best advice to NQs right now is to get yourself in a prime position with your own firm and also with the external jobs market, be prepared to get into an applications process if something interesting comes up, and be receptive to ideas. Rarely is the NQ season a great deal of fun for the candidates, but help is at hand and giving yourself some time is a sensible tactic now we’ve got January out of the way.

More from me in February!

You can download the FREE Brooke Thornham NQ Guides here, or for an informal chat about your options as a newly qualified solicitor, give us a call on 0113 487 3080. 

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