Across East Anglia the regional economy has continued to thrive. Many law firms have made industry headlines for moving into a new office or opening a new office(s) (or both) along with expansion plans, trainee recruitment investment, internal promotions and significant lateral hires.
Vacancies for non-contentious lawyers
Specialised non-contentious solicitors are particularly in demand, especially at 0-5 years’ PQE in a range of practice areas. In some cases there are more vacancies than there are potential candidates in these practice areas. Demand is particularly high for:
- Agriculture, commercial property and residential property
- Corporate and commercial
- Finance and banking
- Wills, trusts and probate (in particular STEP-qualified lawyers)
- Specialised areas such as biotechnology, IT and intellectual property
Vacancies for family, employment and litigation lawyers
There have been a number of vacancies arising in these practice areas, though most of these vacancies have arisen due to a leaver/retirement.
Vacancies for in-house lawyers
The in-house legal market is growing; large businesses often prefer to have an in-house lawyer to do work which in the past may have been outsourced to an external law firm. The growth of in-house lawyers is likely to be a trend that continues, not just for cost-saving purposes but also to have an industry specialist lawyer on-site, who may be able to provide a better service to meet the needs of the business than an outsourced lawyer would be able to.
Vacancies for experienced paralegals
Experienced paralegal roles often arise, particularly for conveyancing and wills & probate. When these vacancies arise, the market typically offers a very small number of potential candidates with the desired experience.
Vacancies for trainee solicitors
It is expensive for law firms (and in-house legal teams) to train solicitors from scratch (typically upwards of £50,000 each), and whilst many do make such an investment, there are far more law and LPC graduates produced every year than there are training contracts available.
Vacancies for entry-level paralegal roles
Entry-level paralegal roles for law and LPC graduates do arise often, and when they do, law firms have no problem finding a sufficient quality and quantity of candidates. Candidates who evidence good academics and extra-curricular achievements are likely to secure interviews over candidates who do not.
Vacancies for legal secretaries
There are generally more legal secretarial positions than there are good-quality legal secretarial candidates with two or more years of recent experience to fill those vacancies. Therefore, salaries are rising for experienced legal secretaries.
The East Anglian market does not usually offer transparency for lawyer salaries above three years’ PQE. Up to three years, some firms have a lockstep salary model; at others it is wholly merit-based. Nevertheless, salaries and benefits packages continue to rise.
Generally regional heavyweight and City firms with a regional office pay the highest salaries. Niche firms also typically pay well. The lowest salaries are usually found in high-street firms.
Equity partnership remuneration, however, does not necessarily follow this trend. Some of the medium-sized firms have young equity partners earning significantly higher than their equity partner peers in regional heavyweight firms.
What law firms look for when recruiting for a lawyer
Law firms will typically look for specific experience and credentials as part of their hiring criteria and most will ask solicitors to present their qualifications in areas such as:
- Specialisation. Generally, the larger the firm, the more specialist lawyers are; City firms with a regional office tend to have lawyers specialise within a particular industry as well as already being a specialist in one area of law.
- Strong technical experience.
- A good record of time recording/billing. Beyond NQ level, some firms look for a minimum billing record.
- Evidence of good client care.
- Evidence of business development.
- Soft skills such as flexibility, teamwork and leadership traits.
- Excellent academics for more junior candidates, especially at 0-2 years’ PQE.
Competition for the best lawyers
Regional heavyweight firms, and City firms with a regional office, compete for the best lawyers by offering, amongst other things:
- Quality of work (particularly high-net-worth and well-known, sometimes household name or large local clients).
- By encouraging specialisation; lawyers in these firms become experts in their area of law – to some, this is highly attractive.
- A transparent career structure and route to equity partner. Typically set criteria for the same, which is usually easily available internally (for example, on the firm’s intranet).
- Excellent salaries and benefits packages. In some cases, transparency on salaries up to three years’ PQE.
Smaller and medium-sized firms compete for the best lawyers by offering:
- Good quality work – often a predominately local client base.
- A strong local reputation with traditional values.
- A good work/life balance.
- A flat career structure to (equity) partner. It is not unusual for smaller and medium-sized firms to have equity partners who are just 3-5 years’ qualified.
- Good salaries and benefits packages. In some cases, significant remuneration at equity partner level. In many of these firms, young equity partners are earning six-figure salaries.
In-house legal teams compete for the best lawyers by offering:
- Good quality work – in-house counsels often have to deal with complex, specialised and varied work (without time recording and billing).
- The opportunity to become an industry expert, and to understand the true impact of their legal advice.
- In some cases, the opportunity to progress and become a director at board level. Sometimes becoming a shareholder is also realistic.
- Depending on the industry, international work and travel opportunities.
- Good, sometimes excellent salaries and benefits.
- A flat career structure to general counsel/head of legal; it is not unusual for lawyers to progress to this quickly, perhaps within 3-5 years of moving in-house. Some general counsels in the region are earning six-figure salaries.
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Law firms and in-house legal teams
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