Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Flexibility is the Key to Survival in a Recession

I have read a lot of articles recently from business experts on how to survive the recession and including advice from people who had been through the last two recessions as to how to cope with the downturn in business trade sales and just about everything else. One thing that comes through all my reading is that flexibility is the key to survival.

I’ll give you a quick example as to how it has affected our business, Ten Percent Legal Recruitment. Ten Percent Legal Recruitment offers the lowest recruitment fees in the UK for the recruitment of permanent and temporary lawyers with law firms, in house departments and local authorities.

We have been charging 15 percent fees for many years now without any increases according to the salary or type of post.

Our competitors start their fees at 18 percent and they go up to anything around 35 percent.

Since the recession has kicked in, we have been getting requests from firms to lower our fees, which is fairly rare for us as our clients are usually very aware that we offer the lowest fees in the legal job market and that there is very little room for us to manoeuvre below this level.

However, quite a number of our competitors are struggling severely and have started to look at ways to cut their fees. Fairly large firms are indicating to us that they have been offered fees at 11 percent and 12 percent by our competitors who are effectively dropping their prices by at least 50 percent.

It has always been commonly accepted in the recruitment consultant world that you do not drop your fees under any circumstances as there is never a reason to do so – if a firm wants a quality candidate from you, they’ll take them regardless of your fee - certainly we would be happy to pay a recruitment agency fee if the candidate was going to generate fees for our company.

So how do we cope with this when a firm may have ten CVs to look at and although ours may be the preferred option, they may decide that the extra expenditure is simply not worth it and go for someone less qualified or less suitable for the post on the basis they are cheaper.

The answer is quite simple. We always start our negotiations by explaining that in order to give something, we have to get something in return and for us as recruiters what is important is ongoing business. A one off placement is great in terms of cash flow, but it usually does not assist the firm or ourselves in the longer term to build a relationship if we are simply placing a candidate and walking away. One of the visions of Ten-Percent Legal Recruitment is to have long term relationships with clients, and we have these already, with clients and candidates remaining with us for many years.

What we would rather do is to not charge the client at all for the candidate but instead offer an Master Vendor Relationship.

This basically entails a firm handing over their complete recruitment and HR operations to us and us managing the department externally for them. Although we do not do the weekly tasks of payroll or holiday entitlements, we can assist with all the recruitment process from the sifting of CVs through to interviews and negotiations and on to contracts, references and start date.

We can also help out with external disciplinary issues as required and give management consultancy advice where necessary.

This means that we have an ongoing relationship with the firm and handle all their enquiries relating to recruitment as well, so they do not need to be concerned about a bombardment from other recruitment agencies or direct applications from candidates.

All of this means that instead of paying us a one off fee, the firm pay us on a monthly basis for a minimum contract of 12 months. During this time we may well introduce four candidates to them and only get paid the equivalent of one and a half to two, but in the same time, we will have also benefited longer term from a close relationship with that firm and be able to recognise their needs quite easily. For us as recruiters it means that candidates will come to us for other vacancies as they can see that we are credible and secondly, we get the benefit of speaking to all that law firms’ recruitment traffic and if you are able to introduce unsuccessful candidates elsewhere, then this can only benefit our company.

This is but one example of a way of being flexible in the current recession and although our prices are not competitive with the agencies who are so desperate for work they are reducing their fees by half, they still offer firms a very good deal in the medium to long term as they get candidates free of charge from us as soon as we have introduced one or two lawyers to them.

I have read of plenty of examples in other industries doing similar things and it is clear that this is one of the major ways to keep your business going during the recession when some of the more conventional ways of generating income are disappearing.

Jonathan Fagan is Managing Director of Ten Percent Legal Recruitment and can be contacted for press comment and careers advice at cv@ten-percent.co.uk or telephone 0207 127 4343. Ten Percent Legal Recruitment are expert recruiters for lawyers and have been operating since 2000 with over 5,500 solicitors registered to date. Visit our website at www.ten-percent.co.uk for further details.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Conveyancing Jobs - 40% of firms make redundancies - surely more?

40 percent of conveyancing firms report redundancies (surely more than this???!!)

The Law Society Gazette reported a while ago that 40 percent of law firms had made redundancies in their conveyancing departments.

This was based on a survey of 1300 firms who were all clients of one particular company.

About 33 percent of firms said that the slump had not affected them and that there was no freeze on recruitment and that things were continuing as normal.

Richard Barnett, of Barnett Solicitors, who is also head of a law society conveyancing body said that he could not believe this was possible, that firms were in all probability putting their heads in the sand.

I can agree with Richard Barnett as the evidence on the ground is simply overwhelming to show that almost every firm has ceased to recruit conveyancing solicitors and in quite a lot of circumstances, this has also affected other departments, including wills and probate, family, litigation, crime and anything else a high street firm will cover.

However, it has clearly been conveyancers like Barnett Solicitors and Hammonds Direct who have been hit the hardest, with some firms having lots of redundancies at once, like McKeags in the north east.

When one redundancy is announced, we almost see the effect on our website immediately and we will get a whole host of conveyancing solicitors and executives registering with us all at the same time from the same area and usually from the same firm or from a neighbouring one.

This has been going on now for about four to five months, and this has got to such an extent that we have now removed all conveyancing posts from our website apart from one, as we do not believe anyone is seriously considering recruiting. I expect this to change very shortly, but I think we will start again from scratch with posting new vacancies as opposed to the pre-existing ones.

I also disagree in part with Richard Barnett in that I do not think that solicitors are putting their heads in the sand and some are clearly doing okay in the present climate as they have a good bank of established clients. Unlike Mr Barnett’s firm, which specialises in volume conveyancing, some of the smaller firms have a loyal client bank based locally who will automatically go to the firm for their work, and they don’t need as much work to keep going or to make a profit.

However, I think a lot of firms have been keen to avoid adding to the woes of the profession by stating that they are not recruiting or making redundancies, and I would imagine that they clearly are, they just didn’t want to say to the survey conductors, for fear of making things even worse.

Whilst I could understand the Law Society Gazette running an article like this, it has been the Law Society Gazette editorial that has added to the concerns in the profession and recruitment was particularly hit after the Law Society Gazette decided to wheel out some management consultants to say how hard their clients were being hit, when at the time when there was no evidence of anything taking place.

I think it is slightly again the effect of the media adding to the credit crunch by stoking things up.

Jonathan Fagan is Managing Director of Ten Percent Legal Recruitment, and regularly writes and commentates on the state of the legal job market and the legal profession in general. You can contact us at www.ten-percent.co.uk.

Friday, December 19, 2008

No Legal Work Experience – Quasi-Legal Roles

"I don’t have any legal experience in my career to date although I do have prior work experience in different careers."

This came up quite regularly in a recent seminar session at a University. Quite a lot of the students said that they did not have legal experience but had former careers in other fields.

However, when we went through this in further detail, quite a lot of the students actually did have work experience to a certain degree and it was just a case of getting it out of them. A couple of examples were two students who had been directors or involved in the running of claims management companies and another student who had worked as an employment officer; there were also students who had been contract officers, employment managers and even IT consultants.

A quasi-legal role is one that involves some element of law but not actually working as a lawyer.

Examples would include someone dealing with race equality or employment issues or somebody handling contract negotiations, as all of these roles involve some elements of law, and although this law may not be immediately obvious or particularly stand out when you read through the CV, it can be used to enhance a CV that is otherwise lacking on the legal side of things.

It is just a question of thinking about roles from a lawyer’s perspective, because it will be a lawyer who looks through your CV (or at least someone from HR who is linked to law) and is looking specifically for legal issues or things on a CV that stand out to them. For a lawyer this usually means legally related issues, so if you can fill your CV with plenty of relevant bits of information linked to law this will stand out. You fill your CV with information that is linked to managers, management ‘speak’ & skills and it will not particularly stand out.

Nearly every role you ever work in has some sort of legal issue linked to it; during the seminar we did discuss the issue of how you make stacking shelves in at Tescos sound interesting or relevant to a lawyer. We try to discourage anyone from writing down lists of skills that you think are transferable, simply on the basis that usually nobody reads this as it is just subjective waffle.

There are things that a shelf stacker at Tescos would have been trained in. This will include things like health and safety, basic employment law and contracts to a certain degree. These are issues that will stand out to a lawyer, whereas if you just write that you are a good timekeeper and developed good communication skills - these will not stand out or be completely ignored. There is really no excuse for failing to have legal work experience of some sort if you are training to be a lawyer, as without it you do not know where you want to be, or how you want to develop your career. So although you may have good quasi-legal experience, you should still go out and get some of the real thing, even if it is just a few days here and there or an evening a week.

As an aside many years ago I remember a student on my LPC who was an electrician speaking to a local firm and being told that if he wanted to he could go in on an evening and help the partner shift a load of files off the floor, which he did over a period of about four to six months, unpaid for three to four hours an evening. This all lead to him getting a training contract and qualifying as a solicitor a few years later. Foot, door and right time are all words that lead to training contracts!

Jonathan Fagan is Managing Director of Ten-Percent Legal Recruitment and regularly commentates on the state of the legal profession and the legal job market. You can contact Jonathan for advice at cv@ten-percent.co.uk or telephone 0207 1274343.