I thought I would provide an update on recruitment trends for planning lawyers from 2021, the first quarter of 2022, and predictions for the rest of the year.
The market for planning lawyers hit the ground running in 2021, with most major practices recruiting into their teams. This included firms who had not recruited for several years. I feel like a stuck record as I have been saying this for a while, but demand remains strong for candidates at all levels. This is fuelled by a busy development sector in housebuilding, logistics, strategic land and retail. In addition, there is an extremely busy energy and transport sector, which is sure to fuel further growth in the infrastructure market as the UK focuses on energy sustainability following global events.
Junior lawyers at the 0-2 year level were most in demand in 2021 and this trend has continued into the spring, with some vacancies remaining unfilled. The result is increased opportunities for overseas lawyers as borders begin to open again, but also lawyers in the public sector. I have also seen opportunities to re-train for some candidates keen to work in planning who were not offered the chance on qualification. It seems as if there never been a better time to be a planning lawyer looking for a role. I must sound like a grizzled old journeyman of a recruiter as I recount tales to upcoming NQs about how the market has not always been this strong and 10 years ago the opportunities for junior lawyers were a lot more limited. Interestingly, the legacy of the financial crisis is still relevant today, as firms begin to look for the next generation of planning partners from the pool who qualified in 2008/09/10/11.
Regional areas such as Manchester, Birmingham, Leeds, and Bristol, and the South-West lead the way in demand for candidates. Scotland is also a growth area and if there is a planning lawyer with links to the South and South-East then there is a lot of potential to build up a fast-track case for partnership. Recruitment in the regions continues to be challenging, as the knock-on effects of the pay rises in the capital has meant the lure of city salaries is difficult to resist. However, in my experience of working with planning lawyers, it is not always about the money. I accept it is important, especially in the context of the current economic climate. However, it is worth noting that I have seen a number of lawyers in the last year take a lower financial offer for the opportunity to work on exciting projects with a team who inspires them. Although London continues to offer a decent volume of work and premium salaries, the opportunity to make partner remains greater in the regions. This is worth thinking about when considering your future.
The number of in-house vacancies has also been rising. I have seen several roles in the last year on large infrastructure projects in sectors such as energy and transport. My guess is that this is likely to continue as the Government looks to invest in energy sustainability following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The question I keep asking myself is how long can the insatiable demand for talent continue? There is likely to be a market correction and a reduction in demand for candidates at some point but for now it appears robust. When speaking to heads of teams and partners, I am told that there are business plans in place to grow teams in line with the anticipated demand from clients over the next 5 years. The recent release of the UK’s Energy Strategy on the face of it looks as if it could lead to further instructions in the energy and DCO space, which is good news for infrastructure lawyers who have a focus on renewables and nuclear. The development sector seems equally robust with numerous regeneration projects, housebuilder work, and garden villages providing plenty of activity.
It is also worth mentioning that a real growth area in the last 18 months has been in environmental law. I anticipate we will see an increase in vacancies as developers and local authorities give consideration to bio-diversity net gain and the impact this is likely to have on future projects. In my opinion environment, lawyers have never been busier!
In summary, 2022 appears to be another year of growth in the planning and environment sector which will inevitably lead to more recruitment. Although there are more global economic challenges than last year, the pipeline of work appears to be strong and therefore, I remain broadly optimistic about workflows and new vacancies.