Planning Law Recruitment Update - June 2014
Is your move sustainable?
The recruitment market for Planning Solicitors is booming again. After a number of years in the doldrums where large firms downsized their teams, and only the most passionate and committed juniors found a role, firms are now recruiting. In reality, there has been a steady increase since 2011 with a small number of firms steadily acquiring talent in preparation for the upturn.
However in 2014, the perfect storm, a demand for affordable housing, a substantially increased appetite among private investors, together with increased funding of Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects means that for the first time in around 6 years candidates are finding numerous practices are competing for their talent.
As job hunters are now frequently in a position of having a choice of firms to work for, they need to consider whether the move they are making is sustainable in the long term, should the fragile Real Estate market suffer a drop off in activity in a few years’ time.
This can easily be overlooked in the middle of a rising market where everyone is up to capacity, salaries are rising and bonuses are back on the agenda. However, if we go into another rapid downturn , then it is worth considering how vulnerable you will be should the work drop off and difficult decisions have to be made. Therefore, I believe there are a number of questions you should ask yourself before you accept a position.
1) Does the firm you are looking to join have a long term commitment to Planning and Real Estate? This is a fundamental thing to consider when making a move. The number of practices with dedicated Planning teams has shrunk significantly over the last five years while the dominant ones have continued to grow. Therefore, candidates should look at the size and make-up of the team, the balance of the work such as the extent to which they support the Real Estate Group and whether the Planning team contribute significantly to the firm’s bottom line. If it looks as though they are hiring due to a short term boom in this sector, then you need to consider the position very carefully.
2) Does the practice have a unique selling point? The developer market is cost sensitive, so if you are going to join a firm reliant on this type of client base then you need to know that if the market goes into a downturn, that the department can react in a flexible way to accommodate their clients. For example, can they outsource the work to the regions? Is their relationship long term and exclusive? Does the client use the firm not just because they are good value, but because they are good at what they do? Something else worth thinking about is whether you are inspired by the line manager you are working for. So many good Planning Lawyers have evolved out of strong mentorship, it is worth considering if your new line manager can inspire, challenge you and help you grow as a lawyer. This applies not just on the technical side but also in crucial areas such as business development and brand building.
3) Does the firm have a broad portfolio of clients covering a range of sectors? The obvious example is the split between developer based work and infrastructure. Although a useful starting point when considering a move, this is a quite a blunt test, and doesn’t necessarily mean that practices with a development bias are always at risk to vagaries of the market. A lot of development led firms focus on a range of sectors through housing, retail, and investment, so spread the risk should one area slow down. On the other hand, some infrastructure practices can also be vulnerable to changes in funding and policy particularly in areas such as renewables.
In conclusion, there are a lot of reasons to feel optimistic, not only at the junior level where there are lots of opportunities, but also at the senior level, as bullish practices are more likely to invest in a partner. However, if you have a number of practices competing for your talent, then I would encourage you to think ahead and look at the long term.
If you have any comments or questions, or would like to discuss your career in Planning Law then please feel free to get in touch with Stuart Phillips at Origin Legal.