Tony Brooke’s view: the NQ solicitor job market in January 2018

Welcome to this first edition of my NQ season blog for 2018, which follows on from my providing similar commentary in 2017 which was well received. I hope that this year’s readership can similarly benefit from a monthly sense-check as to what is happening in the NQ solicitor job market. There is no great rocket science to it – rather, it is my regurgitation of what I and colleagues have witnessed in the month just passed, and how reflective that is of the market and of candidate and employer behaviour within it.


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The 2018 edition of our NQ Solicitors’ Survival Guide has again seen a great uptake, and we reckon as a free download resource it’s got plenty of value. We released it in October and, whilst there was some update before Christmas, there has been a massive acceleration over the festive period and I’d expect that to peak by March.

If you’re reading this blog then it’s likely that you’ve already accessed the guide, but if you haven’t then don’t hesitate to help yourself – all the stuff you’d hope to learn at a typical careers talk is in there, plus much more. And if you find it useful, feel free to suggest to friends and colleagues that they download their own copy – the more the merrier. (We also know that some HR professionals like to read it (WOO!) and that is absolutely fine as we’re confident that what we write is fair and truthful and that it is a genuine resource to empower NQs, not to agitate a market.)


January 2018 – a strong start to a strong year

The end of 2017 saw a busy recruitment market and that has continued into the New Year – we recruiters are mad busy, and whilst January is always very very active it is definitely a strong year from what we’ve seen these first 4 weeks.

This year’s spring qualifiers are finding interest: we’ve seen offers in Corporate, Real Estate, and CDR, and no shortage of interviews for candidates in those fields. Spring qualification can be a blessing or a curse, but on aggregate I’d regard employers as slightly less engaged and more selective in spring than in summer. In a busy market, roles are in constant supply, and those spring qualifiers can capitalise upon that market demand; whereas in a slow market, the majority of firms will address qualification as being on a September cycle, and will manage their NQ recruitment as a chance to retain those lawyers they’re invested in training or to cherry pick from other people’s.


Brexit – how will it affect EUr career?

I could mention Brexit, and I will definitely talk about it again in coming months, but it isn’t proving to be a predictable phenomenon. Personally, I find the lack of clarity torturous in the extreme – I probably need to get over my ‘remainer’ tendencies, and just get my head around the fact that the UK will leave and there will be a great deal of both angst and excitement through that event.

To a greater or lesser extent the wondering, worrying, and incessant speculation has reached a stage of being downright boring, but yet strangely addictive at the same time: I don’t want to know about it anymore… yet I do! The one thing Brexit does guarantee is instability and variance in decision making amongst employers, but that’s what we are all facing and NQ solicitors will just have to ride it out like every other professional.

The other thing which I think is almost guaranteed will be some reduction in finance roles in the City of London in favour of stable European locations within the European market. Financial institutions will have limits to how long they can resist taking definitive action, but if the financiers move, so the legal services meeting their needs will also have to contract.

If the institutions in London start to act between now and September then it will impact in the NQ market. My business focus is Leeds and Yorkshire, but I can’t see changes like that not having a knock-on effect in these regions.


The year is young – so don’t panic

We’d not expect any strong September declarations just yet – it is a full eight months away so no panic should be felt in the market. Firms at this time look internally to their own NQs, and if they have a need they’re certainly not convinced they want to wait for anyone else’s to qualify. The most a firm is likely to wait for a candidate to start an NQ solicitor job is six months, and that would only be for a premium candidate who’d convinced a firm beyond doubt that they were committed to joining and had returned all the signed paperwork. ‘No September NQ CVs yet’ has been circulated a few times in January by the big firms, so we recruiters need to be sensitive to that – but it is a temporary deterrent which will be lifted in a few months’ time.

We have seen an instance in January of a role being withdrawn from NQ level, that client having got into process for NQ-3PQE and included March 2018 NQs … but later in the process they withdrew interest in March qualifiers in favour of focusing on their own September crop. For the March contingent that was frustrating, but for the September NQs it is heartening to know that firms have already got you in mind, and so whilst they might not be sharing plans with you it is on the agenda.


The February forecast

For now patience is essential. Start considering getting your CV together as that will take time. Also speak to a recruiter, establish an understanding and some rapport. Make sure you’re choosing to work with the ones you feel you will get value from and that will work well with you.

From Florit Brooke’s side we’re here for specific questions, happy to meet anyone who wants a face to face discussion with a consultant, and keen to give all we can to NQs who we know need more support and guidance now than at any other point in their careers. Definitely do not hesitate to contact the team and tap into our expertise. Hopefully we’ll have some of those dialogues with readers in February, and I look forward to pulling together another market overview at the end of the month.

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