Tony Brooke’s view: The NQ solicitor job market in April 2018

36,000 feet and just under 500mph: that’s when I started knocking this month’s blog together. A week in the Moroccan sunshine works wonders in the spring, and so on Wednesday evening heading home it seemed a good time to share my thoughts on the NQ solicitor job market.


In the mindset for change

In some ways, not unlike the NQ ‘class of 18’, I was with a group of other people who, whilst not personally known to me, were nevertheless sharing a collective experience with a similar end point – and none of us could do anything to influence how the journey would be. I’d had a 3 hour delay on the flight out, yet regular as clockwork coming home, no great stress, but the same route, same airline, yet significantly different experiences.

Those differences were amplified by the mindset of the traveller. Outbound, everyone was irritated and frustrated and impatient, and inbound we were all sunned and noticeably relaxed. From what I can see it is all about the mindset – if you get that right then you’ll remain calm and positive.

And the same is necessary for those NQs still in the jobs market – just keep it together as things unfold, and you’ll make better use of the opportunities and ideas which come up.


Embrace uncertainty

To be honest, I think the only person on that outbound delayed flight whose blood pressure didn’t rise was me! April has been a fantastic yet also stressful month for me personally, as, after ten years trading, Florit Brooke has morphed into Brooke Thornham Consulting.

We have re-branded accordingly and, for the time being, we’re focused on the private practice legal recruitment market in the north. But rest assured we are still the same team with the same client relationships, same systems, and same commitment to providing a top quality service for both candidates and clients. As an NQ dealing with us you won’t notice a difference, and if anything the market we know best is better suited to the majority of you at Newly Qualified level.

Brooke Thornham is all on my shoulders: operationally there has been plenty to familiarise myself with and a new recruit to settle in, and so I can well relate to being ‘Newly Qualified’ when there’s a rush of new exposure and expectation and it is all focused on you. What I can testify to is that uncertainty should be regarded as your friend: it is a fantastic motivator, so embrace it and you’ll amaze yourself in the new situations you find yourself in.

So in that context, a 3 hour delay wasn’t a problem because it was the first situation for many weeks where it wasn’t down to me to progress it, fix it, or otherwise manage the situation for the greater good – delayed in Manchester with my email turned off, oh happy days!


Big firm decisions… but regional firm instructions.

April has seen good progress in the NQ solicitor job market, with the big firms making their decisions and announcements to their own people, and retention seems high. But interestingly, the greater flow of instructions we’ve received has been from mid-tier firms.

Some of the problem is down to candidate expectations: everyone who’s newly qualified wants £43K+ and to work for a Top 20 practice. That means that right now the regional firms don’t have that pulling power, as candidates haven’t realised that what they are looking for isn’t yet available, and if it is they’d be wrong to presume it’d be easy to secure an offer against stiff competition. There’s not much can be done other than wait, or seize the opportunity to engage, but it isn’t a perfect market.

Personally I love regional firms – the visibility of the individual is greater, the exposure is usually very rounded indeed, and there’s a chance to be heard and to contribute to what is going on around you which is rare in the largest brands. Sure, the larger firms have more zeros on the value of the work they are doing, but as an NQ how much of that perceived complexity actually filters down to you? If you asked a regional firm partner they’d say very little, and they’d sometimes be concerned that the all-round exposure from bigger firms can be more limited and lack diversity.

There’s not a conclusive argument either way, but I’m just saying I find it easy to be a fan of regional firms and what they can do for an NQ who has plenty to learn. (I used Schofield Sweeney for the Brooke Thornham legal work, by the way, as I knew the capability they could draw upon.)


Trust your relationships.

One thing that is very obvious now is just how many recruiters NQs have registered with since the start of the calendar year. It is always the case that people feel concerned about a lack of declared vacancies in February and March and therefore think that engaging more recruiters is a good idea. I am not sure it is, and so I urge candidates to trust their recruiter relationships.

As you will learn through your legal careers, there is a massive value from close adviser relationships which are open and honest, and that value is felt both ways. At Brooke Thornham Consulting I am not embarrassed to say that openness and honesty is something we offer and also expect in return – we feel that is the best way to be and we won’t waver from that.

But it has increasingly been my observation in recent years that NQs can find it hard to work openly with a recruiter. Often information will be requested and provided, only for that candidate then to drop out of communications. Does it foster good will and higher levels of effort from intermediaries who want to help you find a role? No: unsurprisingly it causes hesitancy, a lack of confidence in recommending you for roles above other candidates, and protective behaviours in recruiters as the trust is eroded.

So my advice to candidates at all levels is simply to engage: share, open up, be honest, take the value and the support which is freely available, and get the maximum benefit from recruiters who are good at what they do. Often candidates who trust their relationships get the best results and will use a recruiter more than once through their career, which is a fantastic outcome for both parties; after all, business is all about building good relationships.


We’ll catch up after May, see how things are shaping up, and I am sure by that time I’ll barely be able to remember my most recent foreign jaunt and the tan will have faded. Fortunately booking holidays is my other half’s domain – I trust her judgement implicitly, and so I am sure that plans will have been made!

Interested in Brooke Thornham’s help navigating the NQ solicitor job market? Contact us to find out how we can work together.

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