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

I’ll start this month’s update with a happy story about an April NQ who has been looking at opportunities for a couple of months.


They’ve had interviews, got fair feedback, but not quite landed a role. Being pragmatic about securing a spot, they therefore relaxed their focus a little as regards the size of firm they’d consider, and last week had three interviews on Wednesday, which yielded a second interview and two immediate offers. Happy days!

That candidate has gone from being frustrated and fearful of not finding a role that will give them their first qualified step, to being tormented by choice and having to decide tactically how to manage multiple offers and ongoing processes. It seems ridiculous that things can turn so quickly but that candidate stayed engaged with the process, committed to their first-choice field of law, but also showed some commercial awareness to re-evaluate what this move meant and how they could be more open-minded in exploring opportunities.

I’d encourage all NQs to be similarly objective and to not be afraid to explore opportunities on their merits as you may be pleasantly surprised.


Fits and starts in the NQ job market

The spring can be a relatively slow period for NQs – but our clients are now tuning in to recruitment for September, and this March has shown that. Retention has been a preoccupation for employers so far in 2018, but considering the inevitability of retention leads to thoughts of needing to attract new recruits. As a result, we’ve seen requirements for September NQs appearing – not necessarily in huge numbers, but they are coming through.

‘Dribs and drabs’ probably summarises the flow of NQ instructions, and it isn’t as organised and co-ordinated as you might think even with large firms. Those firms who know they have not got the trainees in harness for every identified space are seeking external help with recruitment for their specific needs. They do this with some sensitivity so as not to create panic in the ranks.

Many are still on with their internal processes: some internal offers made, other trainees of the same intake still trying to secure a spot to be retained; but despite this, their brands will still feel compelled not to miss out on talent. That’s why they’re already briefing us for September NQs for certain departments, and only when they feel they can justify the potential disruption that sharing it externally might cause.


What we’ve seen in March

One leading York firm has started selectively circulating roles internally – but it is all a bit piecemeal, and it raises more questions than answers amongst their second-year trainees – ‘shotgun starts’ aren’t great when it comes to sharing vacancies internally. Subsequently they’ve sought external help with recruitment and found interest, though there was a false start when a trainee spoke up at the eleventh hour to be retained.

A Pensions NQ role in Leeds has come in from a cracking mid-tier brand, and they know they have nobody interested despite having September qualifiers internally. There is no awkwardness for them as they shared the role internally to be fair to everyone before coming to market, so they can proceed with clear conscience rather than playing a dangerous game of ‘let’s check out what our competitors have got… and hope that our NQs don’t find out’.

A leading Commercial Litigation team in Newcastle, who don’t have a trainee in the firm, are recruiting externally out of necessity – it’s a plum role for someone wanting top quality work with an international edge to it. In this case, the firm habitually recruits NQs from outside as a tactic: we’ve supplied them on several occasions and it works for them, and us.

A Corporate team in Manchester – again in an office where they don’t have trainee to pick from – has requested CVs. At a £41k NQ rate it’s not a shoddy role, but it is an unusual circumstance for a national brand. And the Leeds office of one of the international brands has instructed us for construction and real estate NQ jobs, again a known shortfall internally.

So, the trend this month seems to be that it’s firms with very specific NQ recruitment needs who are coming to us for support – but I’ll take those instructions, they all count!


Law firms all have their own recruitment tactics…

Of course, one sure way to avoid any accusations of being covert is to go brazenly public, and if that’s communicated well internally it isn’t an illogical recruitment step at NQ level. Advertising is one method of publicising NQ needs, and I have seen branded adverts online in the last fortnight.

Some firms utilise ‘recruitment process outsourcing’: those named recruitment contacts who appear as an ‘employee’ of the firm are actually engaged by separate businesses and are incentivised (by commission) to source people so they have definite motivation if perhaps they can lack an objective view of the broader market.

One thing it can mean is that these personnel will gladly bring into process candidates who might not be the strongest in the broader market because they’ll get a commission. This has been known to work to the advantage of trainees who’ve needed a lucky break to get into a bigger firm – there’s nothing wrong with a bit of good fortune when it comes to job hunting!

I’ve also noticed that some of the larger national firms have recruitment events teed up for the next month or two, which will yield enquiries and CVs from direct candidates of all backgrounds and all likelihoods of securing a role. Since these firms have the time and resources to engage with those people, and assuming the unsuccessful attendees yield some benefit from having attended, then I’d say it’s a fair tactic: the firm might get a direct NQ, and a direct applicant might get over the threshold.

What we’re witnessing increasingly is a broad range of NQ recruitment tactics, driven by a squeeze on costs, by increased internal expectation that a firm’s recruitment team should be proactive as possible, and made more feasible by modern technology and social media. Do I think that agency recruiters like myself are threatened? No: we are quicker, more committed, better connected, and more able to compete to make placements than an internal recruiter ever will be. What I do know is that even the most staunchly ‘pro-direct sourcing’ firm will come to recruiters such as Florit Brooke when they have a specific need or when they want a quick result in a competitive market.


As the market heats up time to attract available NQs will become short, firms will become increasingly aware of the competition they face for candidates, and I am quietly confident that we’ll see plenty of more instructions coming through in April.


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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