I have set out my latest update on the current trends in the recruitment market but before I go into this, I must acknowledge the extremely sad news regarding Stephen Ashworth. Although tributes have been paid to him by those who knew him far better, I would like to pass on my personal condolences to his family and the team at Dentons. I was in touch with Stephen over several years regarding potential new hires and to generally catch up on what is happening in the market. Although a very busy lawyer with other priorities, he was always generous with his time, and I will remember him reminding me that planning law is there for the greater public good.
2021 has seen a meteoric rise in levels of recruitment into Planning Law in all sectors and at all levels. Although pipelines of work towards the end of 2020 were healthy and there was a flurry of Associate and Senior Associate hires towards the end of the year, there were some question marks as to what may happen as we entered the start of 2021 as the impact of the second wave of Covid 19 led to a further lockdown.
Any doubts about a dip in the market were short-lived as many firms hit the ground running with new instructions, leading to numerous new recruitment mandates. The surge in work is due to several factors, such as increased confidence in the development sector (public and private), a commitment to infrastructure projects, and the changing retail sector. Several firms are also treating planning and construction as part of their key growth strategy which is leading to lots of investment.
The highest volume of vacancies has been in London as there has been a need to recruit experienced lawyers who do not need a huge amount of supervision to cope with the increased demand. However, there is also a surge in demand for juniors including NQs following a lack of internal hiring in 2020. The surge in hiring has meant some candidates have had multiple options and the firms who have completed their business early have been the ones who have benefitted. The increase in vacancies has also hit the locum market as increased permanent roles has led to a more challenging hiring conditions in the temporary market. This has been aggravated by the travel restrictions which means there are fewer overseas candidates on the market who are often open to fixed-term positions at short notice.
It is far from London-centric and the regions, as ever, are busy with opportunities focussed around the usual planning law hubs of Bristol, Birmingham, Cambridge, Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield, and Scotland. There was a fear that remote working may lead to more challenging hiring conditions for regional recruitment as London-based planners could relocate and work from home needing only to go to the office only when necessary. However, this does not seem to have had a huge impact for a couple of reasons.
1) There is no substitute for being close to your clients and office for meetings and business development, especially in the development sector.
2) Planning lawyers have been successfully working remotely prior to the pandemic so the revolution in working practices has not really materialised.
What does this bubble mean for now and the future of the recruitment market in planning? With the OECD upgrading the growth in GDP this year to 7.2% and with it looking likely we will have the same government for some time to come, my view is that recruitment activity will remain healthy. It is not just the number of vacancies that backs this up but also the diverse sectors that the work is found in. With projects in areas such as housing, regeneration, logistics, energy, retail, transport, and investment it looks as though the pipeline of work is good for some time to come and with the government looking to continue to reform the system, I anticipate this will continue.
Stuart Phillips is a Managing Consultant with Origin Legal and can be contacted on 07725 246857 or on [email protected]