– Continued demand for property lawyers, but potential trouble ahead
– Succession planning issues provide opportunities for more experienced lawyers
– Growth in Government recruitment opportunities
– Continued development of in-house law recruitment
– A development of more flexible work policies for lawyers
The market for lawyers continues to develop with a variety of factors impacting upon what lawyers are in demand and how law jobs are shifting their focus to more government and in-house jobs, as well as a greater emphasis upon flexible work hours for lawyers.
The market is expected to be strong for the next year as the economy remains buoyant.
Although most firms are back to pre-recession levels of graduate recruitment, it is still a tough market for graduates, which is something that has existed for some years. To that extent, not a great deal has changed but it certainly helps grads who have gone through clerking and graduate programmes used by the larger firms.
Many grads have previously – and to some extent still – have needed to settle for less than their most preferred work options.
Nevertheless, there is a problem in recruiting more experienced lawyers – particularly those through to Senor Associate and 3 to 7 years PQE. The problem is created by those who
Nevertheless, there is a problem in recruiting more experienced lawyers – particularly those through to Senor Associate and 3 to 7 years PQE. The problem is created by those who the challenges offered by Christchurch too.
As Kirsty Spears at McLeod Duminy says, “We saw a increased percentage of our placements last year were people choosing to live and work in the regions.
“People returning from overseas were also choosing other regions.”
“The market is strong for more experienced lawyers, particularly intermediate lawyers through to Senior Associate, about 3-7 years PQE, which is caused by a combination of the usual gap left by those who head overseas about that level and the gap created by reduced graduate intakes in the years after the GFC.”
The opportunities for candidates continues to be strong, creating a ‘candidate driven’ legal market, recruiters say.
However, law firm managers continue to struggle to find appropriately qualified candidates for some areas of practice, a view shared by several of the recruiters who note the problems in getting candidates in the middle and senior level, while some changes in areas like property herald other changes.
As Niche Recruitment’s Jane Temel says: “This is particularly the case in boutique firms. Intermediate commercial, commercial property, litigation, employment, RMA and Banking and Finance lawyers continue to be sought after, especially in the mid to large firms.
Another significant development has been the requirement for workplace flexibility for lawyers with family commitments or who simply enjoy the freedom and lifestyle choices afforded by a flexible work environment.
Succession planning issues for small to mid-sized firms has created opportunities for lawyers with 10 years’ or greater experience. Although those bringing clients with them is advantageous, it is not a necessity for many firms who have an existing client base.”
The demand for litigation lawyers is soft, although there are difficulties finding good and experienced litigators in the 3-5 and 6-10 years PQE bands.
As recruiter Judith Eller at Legal Personnel says, “When you have the position, you can’t find a candidate and when you have a candidate you cannot find the role.”
She also points out that there are signs that insurance litigation work is leveling off while weather tight homes work is reducing too.
Property law –
The property boom, particularly in Auckland, has lead to strong demand for property lawyers, both residential and commercial, which appears to have dimmed recently.
Judith Eller, Legal Personnel says that the demand seen over the past two to three years has eased with most firms “holding their numbers” rather than increasing their property law teams presently.
Family & Criminal Law –
Changes to the legal aid situation have seen family and criminal lawyers seeking to diversify their areas of practice and broaden their portfolios.
These are areas that have been significantly shaped by government policy and the development of the Public Defenders Service.
The government is intent on removing lawyers from family law, which means there are strictly limited opportunities for young lawyers to start in family law.
Maori Law –
Lawyers who specialise in Maori Legal work are now contemplating career prospects post settlement.
Firms specialising in this area are beginning to put significant thought into how best to cater to the needs of their Maori Legal Team members to ensure retention by finding ways to leverage off the experience they have gained to date in order to position them well for the future.
While law graduates will always face tough competition to win their first professional role, we have observed some changes in the market which are positive for graduates.
Public Law –
Opportunities in the public law area continue to expand and some top-rate lawyers who show innovation and ability are developing their careers in this space.
Several senior lawyers have commented on the higher standards achieved by senior public law personnel who can easily match those in the private sector.
The public sector is also starting to become more proactive in seeking out high calibre law graduates for careers in government.
Niche Recruitment, for instance, has been engaged to partner with the Government Legal Network to run their second Law Graduate and Summer Clerk Programme. This provides four full-time positions for Law Graduates to complete four rotations in diverse public sector agencies across a two year period.
There are also around 18 openings for law students to experience the public sector through summer internships.
One of the characteristics of the law profession in recent years has been the development of the boutique practices who provide specialised legal services.
There has been a definite increase in interest from small to mid-tier general practices firms who are seeking lawyers ranging from graduate level through to experienced lawyers.
The boutiques are also seeing specialist firms and organisations seeking talented graduates to develop into high performing practitioners in certain areas, for example intellectual property and tax
And of course the top tier firms continue to carry out their graduate recruitment programmes, targeting the top performing graduates.
In-House Roles –
There remains a strong demand for in-house lawyers, which provides strong competition for private practice lawyers.
In-house work provides a viable alternative to working in private practice and there continues to be a demand for those seeking a better work/life balance, as well as a desire to become more strategically involved in the affairs of the client, and to have a genuine impact on the direction of an organisation.
The opportunity to sit on a Senior Leadership Team and have the potential to transition into management is appealing to a number of practitioners who are contemplating breaking away from the pure practice of law.
The market continues to be candidate-driven, says Niche Recruitment’s Jane Temel and is likely to continue to be so.
“There is a need across the board for property lawyers – commercial and residential, and trust lawyers.”
However signs of a property slow down may already be having an effect on recruitment in this area. Some recruiters and practice managers note that there has been a definate lessening in demand for property lawyers, particularly in Christchurch with the reduction in property-related transactional work.
Recruiter Karen Courtney, CustomiseTalent (pictured) says the property sales market has taken a hit since September when loan ratios blocked the way for some purchasers which, in turn, has had what she says is an enormous effect upon some practices “who have had a downturn in these types of instructions, particularly in struggling locations.”
Succession Planning Issues – An ongoing issue of increasing importance is succession planning for many small to mid-sized law firms, which opens opportunities for lawyers who have around 10 years PQE.
The move from partners entering the 65-70 year age bracket is one of the major changes in the legal market, creating major opportunities for many in the younger age bracket.
The opportunity does not require the addition of a client roster, particularly if the firm has a long-established client base to come to. The greater concern is firm survival.
As recruiter Judith Eller notes, “The succession issue is a major one for many firms, creating challenges that is helping to reshape the legal landscape in the major centres.
For some time now we have seen a definite shift towards finding ways forward on this front, be it core hours complimented with remote access, thirty hour working weeks with no expectation beyond that, greater annual leave components negotiated into contracts. As we see more evidence of it working in action, the more confidence the legal community is gaining in flexible working arrangements.
We are now seeing the benefits to both employer and employee on this front – less stress, greater productivity, better employer/employee relationships, clarity of expectations on both sides.
Areas showing growth are Corporate and Property in particular, and specialist areas like Health & Safety driven by legislative changes of course. That seems to be similar across the main cities as well.
The salary details below are taken from the Law Society/Hays Legal Salary Guide published at the end of last year.
It is also noteworthy to consider a mid-year guide undertaken by McLeod Duminy and ALPMA which showed some key stats also, including –
- 76% of firms pay a bonus, the majority (56%) being based only on individual performance;
- 99% of firms intend to raise salaries and 87% of those will be at CPI or above.
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