Legal Recruitment from Ten-Percent Legal

Thursday, April 24, 2008

I'm about to qualify as a solicitor - help!

23/04/08 I’m just about to qualify but the legal job market is awful – help!

Every year since 2000 legal recruitment has been on a wave. Some months there can be lots of recruitment, lots of legal jobs, and lots of opportunities for all levels of the profession. There seems to be almost a collective enthusiasm about taking on more staff, expanding operations and generating new work.

Other months, it can be completely flat, with no work for anybody, no placements and very little going on. This can be fuelled by media speculation and hype about the state of the market or actual events in reality, for example, the Iraq war of 2003. In the current climate I predict that there will be a glut of newly qualified conveyancing solicitors coming onto the market who will struggle to find work, or will find work, or will have to take salary reductions with their current firm or look at other areas within their existing firms as opposed to looking to move on to new legal jobs. Well, what do you do if you are in this position?

The first thing to do is not to panic. As has happened in the past, the market has eventually righted itself, and firms have realised there is still work coming in and that they do actually need staff to be able to run the files which they have to work on. Obviously without staff firms are unable to generate sufficient profit. As a result, as old staff move on or retire, there is always the need for a new influx of lawyers.

As a result of this it is important to consider the long term options that you have. You have trained for six to seven years to get to where you are, you must not give up at the first hurdle (or the second hurdle if you struggled to find a training contract as well!). In my experience as the legal recruiter, it is the people who make an effort, struggle to achieve who get on in the profession and it is those who are not entirely committed to their choice of profession or who do no perhaps have the same staying power end up the deadwood or unemployed.

You must keep looking and keep all your options open if looking in a dead legal job market.

The current market is reasonably buoyant still despite the recent downturn in property work and the obvious reduction that’s going to occur in conveyancing work to a certain degree.

If you find yourself out of a job, particularly on conveyancing or commercial property, and you have just completed a training contract and are looking to qualify, bear in mind the following advice:

1. Firstly, only take paralegal work as a last resort. In the last mini-recession we had in 2003, a number of commercial litigation solicitors, on qualification, took paralegal work as they were unable to find qualified solicitor posts. Whilst this got them short term gains financially, in that they were able to look after themselves and pay their mortgages, it damaged their careers in a sense because when firms now look at their CVs, they wonder why that person has paralegal work on their CV when they have actually qualified as a solicitor and for the remainder of their career at every interview they go to, the question will be asked as to why they were working as a paralegal and not a solicitor at that stage and it is funny how people can forget the current state of the market, how quickly this occurs.

2. Keep all options open and do not necessarily discount jobs on the basis of the salary being too low or it being too far away. We have recently had a candidate turn down a post in an area where there were very few opportunities on the basis that he was undecided, wanted to have a look at other options, but discovered within four weeks that there were no other options and no other firms were the slightest bit interested in employing him. We are currently speaking to the first firm on his behalf to see if they would be interested in taking him on now, but personally, if somebody did this to my company, we would instantly reject them on the basis that they hadn’t shown sufficient commitment in the first place to us, so why should we consider them a second time round. Of course, it does work both ways because if there are not enough candidates in a certain area to fill posts, then firms are slightly more restricted in who they can take on.

3. Consider all alternatives including out of the legal profession if the market gets too bad. Obviously if you have been out of work for 12 months and have no prospects of finding anything because there is just not the work there to be had, then it’s important to consider other options to keep your finances up and perhaps it’s the time the consider that maybe the legal profession is not for you and you do need to consider changing your career to something else.

Whilst it may sound desperate and awful when you read the papers and the journals, on the ground the legal recruitment market is not as bad as is being made out. There appear to be plenty of posts coming up still and we have not seen a downturn in the number new vacancies being advertised. However we have seen an upturn in the number of candidates registering with us and in fact, have recently stopped a whole host of advertising on this basis as the numbers of candidates we have been getting in have been too many for us to cope with and it is unlikely that we would be able to assist them in finding a new post in the fields that they are looking within, mainly conveyancing or LSC funded family work.

Do not give up hope as those who strive to achieve, tend to achieve! (sorry about the buzz words at the end here!).

Jonathan Fagan is the Managing Director at Ten Percent Legal Recruitment (www.ten-percent.co.uk). He regularly commentates and writes on legal recruitment and the state of the legal job market.

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