Brexit, Boutiques & Mergers – A review of the current recruitment trends in the planning market.
- Brexit yet to impact the demand for planning solicitors
- Multiple senior lateral hires reflect sustained confidence in the sector
- High-end boutique suggests potential to disrupt market
- Demand for development planning continues to outstrip infrastructure planning
- Shifting market makes getting expert advice crucial to career moves
This is turning out to be quite a year of change for planning solicitors in private practice. The beginning of 2016 was relatively quiet following a sustained spell of recruitment activity the previous year and concerns over the global economy. However the market picked up steadily especially on the development planning side and the needs for associates at the 0-5 year level soon followed. It therefore looked as though 2016 would follow a similar pattern to 2015.
I don’t propose to overly speculate on the impacts of Brexit on the planning jobs market apart from saying that after a pause for breath, the planning market appears to have largely recovered. At the time a number of clients commented that they had barely noticed any change in activity with some commenting that they were as busy as ever.
As we moved into autumn, a number of significant announcements were made. The most eyebrow raising was the formation of boutique planning firm Town Legal LLP. Founded by Simon Ricketts, Clare Fielding, Patrick Robinson and Mary Cook they will focus on premium development planning work and will provide a genuine alternative to the larger firms.
“We believe this firm will be the first of its scale, with the intention of providing planning law advice to clients particularly focused on major London mixed-use development and urban extensions and similar schemes outside of London.” Simon Ricketts – Legal Week
Although not the first boutique to enter the market, the scale of the team is what makes it eye catching. Just prior to this Clyde & Co announced the hire of Stephen Webb and Brian Greenwood to significantly boost their offering to the market and Howard Kennedy appointed Martha Grekos from Irwin Mitchell. This was then followed by the announcement that CMS Cameron Mckenna, Nabarro and Olswang are to merge in 2017. Both CMS and Nabarro boast highly talented teams in their own right and the combination will lead to one of the larger planning firms in the UK with expertise across development and infrastructure.
“(These hires) give us critical mass to grow the practice further…I am very excited about our future growth." Ian Ginbey (Clyde & Co)
These moves demonstrate that even in uncertain times the need for specialist planning talent will always be sought and the knock on effect of the senior moves is bound to increase demand for associates and nqs as things move forward. The further knock-on-effect of these moves is that it is inevitable that the firms who have lost partners will look to replace them in some capacity which will create further opportunity.
Regionally the markets have been less volatile in terms of moves but the growth of the Shoosmiths Planning team is worth noting and they have recently tapped into the London market with the hire of Tim Johnson and Angus Evers which now gives them full national coverage. DLA have also strengthened nationally.
“(The appointments reflect) the rapid growth and increased client roster we have seen” Simon Boss, head of real estate at Shoosmiths
In terms of sectors, the need for talent remains biased towards development planning. This is in line with demands for housing, constant evolvement of the law and continued investment in development projects. Demand for infrastructure planners however has been steadier. The uncertainty of Brexit has contributed to this, but the recent announcement on the third runway (if it happens) is a step in the right direction and if the government continues to demonstrate that the UK is open for business by funding further transport projects and by following through with proposed energy projects, then I am confident that the demand in this sector will continue to pick up. Although times are uncertain, I still believe that there are many reasons to be positive in today’s market as the unique skill set that planning lawyers can offer are still in demand as is proven by the start-ups and hires at the senior end of the market.
So what does this mean for a planning solicitor who wishes to consider their options?
Broadly I would say that the recruitment market is robust with firms remaining opportunistic in a market where skill sets are unique. However finding the right position still requires expertise as opportunities will depend on things such as whether the firm has recently hired, what work they are pitching for, what internal trainees they have coming through and are they in merger talks? Nqs who know they want to qualify into planning should get in contact with a well-informed Consultant as early as possible. Qualified and mid-level associates will benefit by having a conversation about type of work that each firm can offer and future potential. Senior candidates will benefit by being able to have a confidential overview of the sector without letting a relatively small market know they are looking.
Stuart Phillips is a Senior Consultant at Origin Legal with a focus on planning sector. If you are considering a career move or would like an overview of the market he can be contacted on 01206 233504 or [email protected]
A list of active positions can be found here: https://www.originlegal.co.uk/jobs