Across Norwich and East Anglia (and further afield) there is a significant shortage of non-contentious solicitors. Actual roles which are likely to be very difficult to fill in this region include:
- Real estate solicitors (conveyancing, commercial and agriculture)
- Corporate/commercial solicitors (all positions)
- Employment (non-contentious)
There has also been significant growth (and therefore there is demand for solicitors) in other areas such as wills, trusts and probate, commercial litigation and (private) family solicitors.
The UK property market and its impact
The UK property market has seen a second surge after the conservative government won a minority government. This has continued to see a rise in new growth roles in both residential and commercial property. A large number of these positions remain vacant (the supply of candidates is not meeting demand). There’s also been increased demand for real estate litigation solicitors.
Corporate/Commercial (corporate, mergers & acquisitions, intellectual property, banking & finance etc)
Almost all corporate and commercial teams in Norwich and the surrounding area have experienced an upsurge in demand for their services since the recession ended, and therefore, a large majority have recruited in the last 18 months. Non-contentious corporate/commercial solicitors who are 0-5 years’ PQE are particularly in demand, and there are very few potential candidates around. In some cases, firms have made offers to NQs from other firms who have very little practical experience in this area and or did not complete a seat in their training contract.
Local solicitors seem to be pointing to an upsurge in demand for human resource type services from their clients, and therefore, employment has seen some growth too. Across the region, solicitors are talking about a reduction in contentious employment instructions, due largely to the introduction of tribunal fees.
0-5 years’ PQE vacancies
The majority of vacancies appear to be between newly qualified (NQ)-5 years’ post-qualified experience (PQE) in most instances; this is because solicitors and qualified lawyers in this area are generally reasonably competent at this level and are not yet very expensive.
Reasons for the shortage
The reasons for the shortage of non-contentious solicitors are complex and varied but include:
- Fewer firms taking on trainee solicitors during the recession
- Growth in the areas of real estate and corporate/commercial was affected by the recession, and therefore NQ solicitors did not qualify into these areas because of the lack of demand at that time; as the economy has improved, so has client demand for services in these practice areas.
Career prospects and salaries
Solicitors who are practising in real estate, corporate/commercial, wills, trusts and probate, family (private), commercial litigation and non-contentious employment have enhanced career prospects because the supply of solicitors in these practice areas is not meeting the demand and vacancies are remaining unfilled.
Solicitors working in small and mid-size firms may be able to move to a top 50/ top 100/top 200 regional or national commercial law firm relatively easily – a situation which is unique due to the shortage. Ordinarily such firms would prefer to take candidates on who have come from similar commercial firms and or City firms.
In addition to this, solicitors are in a stronger position to negotiate their salaries both by staying in their existing position and moving to another position. Due to increased demand for services, solicitors are able to bill more than in previous years, and therefore it follows that firms are in a stronger position to offer enhanced salary levels and job security than in recent years.
Retaining solicitors in the practice areas of corporate/commercial, real estate, wills trusts and probate, family, commercial litigation and employment is difficult – especially for small and mid-size firms. In part, this is due to the enhanced career and salary prospects these solicitors have due to the current shortage.
Commercial regional law firms are able to lure away newly qualified solicitors from small and mid-size firms working in these practice areas by offering, for example: higher net-worth clients, good opportunities for training and development/CPD; higher salaries and benefits packages, structured and transparent career prospects and in some cases, flexible working initiatives too. This is causing a headache for small and mid-size firms who are starting to experience retention issues across many practice areas. On top of that, ambitious solicitors who would like to work in a City law firm may be able to make that move far more easily than in recent years.
Still little demand for entry-level paralegals and trainee solicitors
There is very little or no demand for the following positions:
- Entry-level paralegal positions
- Trainee solicitors (there are still far more law and LPC graduates looking for training contracts than there are positions available). This means law firms can specify stringent short list criteria – for example a good degree from a good university and strong A level results, as a way to narrow down the numbers of applicants.
Little or no demand for:
- Family (legal aid) solicitors
- Criminal (legal aid) solicitors
- General litigation solicitors
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