February may have been a short month, but there was plenty happening behind the scenes in the NQ market.
Firms getting organised
Mainly, firms were getting to grips with their plans in February, and that’s why we need to speak so regularly with them at this time of year. Some of my Leeds clients have already decided on roles for 70% of their trainees, and at least one of the Top 30 brands bowled offers in January, which is admirably early.
One of the UK Top 20 have had their internal discussions about what they want, and have a pretty good correlation between roles and trainees, yet their new budget of 1st April will apparently precipitate the release of opportunities internally….not long after Brexit that, is it? Hmmm. Whereas others in the Leeds ‘Big Six’ haven’t even had their initial internal conversations.
One thing that is clear is that firms are re-evaluating their obstinate roles and, in the realisation that one to three-year PQE candidates are not forthcoming, they are instead looking favourably at 2019’s NQs. We’ve a client with an NQ as front runner for a construction litigation role, albeit it is declared as a 2+PQE requirement. Similarly we have pensions roles on interview for NQs, even though they are not NQ roles. So opportunities are forthcoming for those candidate who have got organised, who have a CV shaped and ready to use, and who are working with agents to find early opportunities.
One point of concern I have is candidates who aren’t in control. Working with agents is great, it helps you, but make sure you’re being asked before your CV is sent. In February we acted for a candidate whose CV had already been received at least twice in preceding weeks, yet the individual didn’t seem remotely aware of it. No client wants a dispute. And no client looks favourably on a candidate who isn’t driving their job search. Duplication says something about the agents and whether they’re working the correct way, but it also raises questions of the candidate and their ability to manage a project with multiple parties involved. So stay organised, sense check on the agents you are working with and, if you don’t like their practices, disinstruct them.
Are any disciplines standing out just yet?
There are a few high demand areas. Right now, pensions law seems to be the highest demand with the largest firms, and they’re prepared to look at September qualifiers and consider re-training those with the right skill set and good academic background. Commercial projects is another field with early roles – commercial or corporate or construction are great backgrounds to come from if you’ve not done an actual projects seat. And healthcare seems to be another active field, with plenty of roles and a shortage of talent, so anyone with defendant background right now could do well in the market.
What do they have in common? They are niche. There are relatively few training grounds for these skill sets, and from that appreciation comes client flexibility. They are also all ‘acquired tastes’ as career choices – pensions might be perceived as “dry”, projects as “lacking longevity” and healthcare as “too narrow” for some candidates, and so they’re less popular choices for NQs.
What I’d say is that those assessments display a lack of information or full appreciation and I don’t think those criticisms of these career specialisms stand up under closer examination. All these fields have provided long and interesting and lucrative careers for lawyers, so to shoot them down with gross generalisations isn’t doing them justice. For the candidates we’re acting for in these fields they have taken time to learn about the work and the prospects and they couldn’t be happier to be in process with only modest competition.