by Jason Nottage, Director Origin Legal
If you about to qualify as a solicitor in 2023, this is a really helpful guide providing information on the current legal market, details on qualifying as a solicitor, working offshore, the recruitment process and more. This guide will provide advice and information to set yourself on the right path for a successful, long-term career in the legal profession.
If you are about to qualify as a solicitor in 2023, this is a really helpful guide providing information on the current legal market, details on qualifying as a solicitor, working offshore, the recruitment process, and more. This guide will provide advice and information to set yourself on the right path for a successful, long-term career in the legal profession.
I can only look back at what an incredibly tumultuous year 2022 was for the legal profession. 2021 and 2022 were very much a bull markets for recruitment within the legal profession. Some labeled 2022 as “The Great Resignation”. A year of unprecedented movement and opportunity in a period of incredible demand.
2022 saw law firms carry a record number of vacancies. It could also have been described as the year of the counter-offer and the year for record salary increases. Following the tail wind of the global pandemic, the war in Ukraine, unprecedented inflation and energy costs, and changes to work patterns and environments the volatility we have experienced is understandable. These issues have touched everyone, every business, and every law firm. Law firms have adapted to be highly versatile post-pandemic as things continue to change and move forward at real pace.
The big salary increases
The first of these seismic changes happened at the start of the year with the increase in NQ pay. Several factors combined to drive up NQ salaries. Inflation and cost of living was one reason, but salary increases were also driven by the increasing numbers of regional lawyer's taking positions in London to meet the demand as the legal profession was carrying a record number of vacancies, and law firms in the regions needed to act. In 2022 MHA cited 85% of law firms planned to recruit an additional headcount 85% of UK law firms. So, against a backdrop of law firms looking to grow, salary increases were predicted but none of us could have predicted how much.
Law firms and you
Solicitors now have a much different relationship with their law firm. The pandemic has altered this. We don’t just negotiate offers based on money and benefits. Candidates now want to understand what a law firm is like, its values, its flexible work policy, support network, social side and its attitude to mental health and wellbeing. Training and development, quality of work and quality of clients have always been important but candidates now what to really see what life will be like before they accept a job.
It is important to take all the factors into account before making any decisions and, with sometimes a £10,000 difference between offers, it’s incredibly important to weigh up all the factors
I have loved and loathed the legal recruitment market this year in equal measure. The opportunity it has presented for people has been incredibly good but the indecision in the process due to this demand has made the recruitment process very challenging at times. Most of my regional clients have shared this sentiment.
I wish you every success in 2023
Are we under lawyered?
Following the September 2022 round of qualifications, the UK has 160,676 registered qualified solicitors. I have been saying to my clients that at present I estimate the private practice side of the profession is under-lawyered by around 10,000 solicitors. The reason for this shortage is clear. In the last 5 years legal service firms operating a consultancy model are growing at 3 times the rate of mid-market regional law firms. Trusted research by Arden Partners PLC revealed findings that the banding of Nexa, Keystone, Bexley Beaumont, Gunnercook, Excello, Setfords, and Taylor Rose have been growing both revenues and lawyer counts at a much faster rate than the entire market.
Add into the mix the increasing number of lawyers taking positions in-house and the demand for lawyers to work offshore and leave the UK then it’s clear why there is a shortage. Also, when you factor in the talent defecting from main-stream private practice are lawyers of senior associate or partner level, you can see the drain this will have on numbers.
This has led to high demand and at NQ level this has meant record retention rates on qualification, between 85-90% and in many cases 100%. It has also encouraged firms to recruit NQs into positions when they really need a more senior lawyer.
88% of the top 100 UK law firms are concerned that a shortage of talent could stop them from achieving their ambitions
2023 I believe will see a levelling off. With predictions abound for a deep recession the optimism reported at the tail end of 2021 just isn’t there. We are already struggling with an unusually large spring 2023 cohort of NQ’s (largely due to furlough). We have been actively marketing candidates across the East and West Midlands, Leeds and Manchester, Oxfordshire and Thames Valley and we are getting results that we would not expect. Normally a good NQ Corporate or Commercial Property solicitor would get 4-5 interviews. We are seeing 1 or 2. The bigger firms have been very quiet, and some have frozen opportunities in a bid to wait and see. While this is worrying, I am unsure if this is due to a downturn or because we have an unusually high number of March NQ’s. Maybe law firms are more geared historically to filling NQ posts in September.
First Position is your most important
Getting your first NQ position continues to be one of the most important decisions of you career. It will set you on the right path and is very much the building block for your future. Shaping your career starts from the training you get post qualification, so it is important to start considering the following points very early:
- What is my preferred area of law?
- What type of law firm do I want to be at?
- What are my long-term career aspirations?
- Do I have any geographical boundaries?
September can seem a long time away in February, but there are some real advantages to considering these questions and making decisions early.
Many law firms have acknowledged these changes in NQ thinking over the last five years and certainly the process of securing an NQ position has been brought forward. As in previous years, many law firms are increasingly keen in securing their best trainees on qualification as early as possible. Even during 2022 many trainees reported into us that they had been able to secure a position in the spring even with the stresses and concerns of the start of the pandemic.
We have always said if you are able to secure a position in the spring it will provide you an opportunity to influence your final seat and will be beneficial to your new position (whether at your current firm or a new employer).
If you have been successful in securing a double seat in your chosen practice area this should give you a clear advantage during the process of getting your first position. Alongside a greater level of experience, you should benefit from greater technical knowledge and confidence when you start.
If your training firm does offer you an NQ role and you are comfortable that it is the best place for you to develop in your chosen practice area, your decision is simple, but resist the temptation to stay just because it is convenient. As mentioned, benchmark any offer you receive against the questions above. The early years of your career are vital in shaping your future.
Candidate advice Shamila Naheem
I placed Shamila Naheem at Pinsents in the summer of 2022. Shamila joined the firm on qualification in September 2022 having trained at Brighton County Council.
1, Shamila, when did you start thinking about making a move and what were your aspirations?
I’d been advised to start reaching out and keeping an eye on NQ jobs a year before qualification to understand the demand in the market for the sector I was interested in, and then to start speaking to recruiters to express interest around 9 months before qualifying.
Aspiration wise, the most important thing to me was to be in an environment that was nurturing and that would allow me to be the best solicitor I could be in five years time. I was also keen to find a role in projects which is a pretty niche area and was willing to compromise on location to find a role in this sector that was a good fit.
2, As we worked together on the job search how did you feel you benefitted from the relationship?
My recruitment process was very smooth! Jason reached out to law firms and lined up interviews for me that were a good fit for my ambitions.
3, What is the best piece of recruitment advice you could give to someone qualifying into law in 2023?
Start researching the sector, the market in your preferred location and the NQ market early to gather an understanding of what different companies are looking for. I’d also say to remember that this is a two-way process try and think about whether the place you are interviewing at would be a good fit for you and your ambitions and whether you can meet your long-term career (and life) goals there.
International & Offshore NQ market
Offshore and International
The offshore sector has weathered the inherent challenges of a global pandemic remarkably well, with the ten market leaders continuing to recruit across their international networks. Whilst minimum levels of 3-5 years post-qualification experience are required in the Caribbean and Bermuda, the Channel Islands remain a fertile ground for NQ’s seeking elite level cross-border work and City level salaries, without the drawbacks of life in a City law firm.
Joining a leading offshore law firm in Jersey or Guernsey, you will notice that the culture is relaxed but the standards are every bit as high as any major onshore firm. Junior lawyers can expect plenty of responsibility from the outset and client contact comes as standard, so this is worth considering if you are looking to fast-track your development. In the longer term, experience gained here is prized by top UK firms (should you decide to return home), but many choose to build a career in the offshore world, either within the Channel Islands or further afield in the Caribbean or Asia.
You are likely to need good academics and a training contract with a respected UK/international firm including seats in one or more of; corporate, banking and finance, investment funds, financial services or commercial litigation. Starting salaries are around £60k-£65k with 20% tax and all firms offer a relocation and benefits package. The advantages of island life are manifold, perhaps now more than ever, with both Jersey and Guernsey navigating Covid-19 with some aplomb. It is a friendly place, easy to settle and ideal for anyone who fancies a more outdoors, coastal lifestyle without compromising their career path.
As for NQ roles in the onshore world, we anticipate that opportunities will be more limited in 2021 as firms continue to fill international roles internally due to a less heated recruitment market in London. It is inevitable that positions will come up in places like the Middle East, Singapore and Hong Kong, but we anticipate that they will arise late in the process when internal recruitment drives are complete, and they are likely to be highly competitive. Nevertheless, if you have credentials from a top-tier firm, and particularly if you have prior international experience (such as a seat overseas), opportunities may arise so we would encourage you to register your interest.
Contact Jason Horobin if you would like more information about the international market for NQ lawyers. You can also view our Guide to Building an International Career here https://www.originlegal.co.uk/resources/international-resources/international-moves/a-guide-to-building-an-international-legal-career/
NQ London Market
2022 saw a rising demand for NQs across all disciplines. Transactional areas of law have been in the most demand and this has led to further pay rises across the city which has also had a knock-on effect throughout London and the regions. A high proportion of firms have now adopted a hybrid working model allowing flexibility for most. It is also worth noting that firms are using more than just salary rises to attract talent. Many have reviewed their overall packages with a large focus on well-being in addition to the usual benefits. Therefore, if you are in the fortunate position of having a choice of practices to join on qualification then this can make a difference.
This is the time of year where a crystal ball would be helpful as it is currently difficult to gauge what the 2023 market will be like. We have noticed a drop-in transactional activity this autumn although there has been an increase in work in areas such as Disputes, Restructuring and Employment Law. As ever, Private Client remains steady. Although transactional work may have dropped off since September, it is different from the cliff edge that we experienced in 2009. This means I would hope to see a bounce back at some point next year despite the global economic challenges and domestic ones because of Brexit. My advice is that if you are offered an internal role in a sector that you are keen to qualify into then you should think seriously about it, as I predict trainee retention may be lower this year. The wholesale rise in salaries in 2022 may have an impact on the volume of junior vacancies in 2023 especially if there is a slowdown in work. I don’t anticipate large scale redundancies at this stage, but I do think NQ roles is likely to be more competitive this year. The good news is that there is still a shortage of talent in the market so although the pendulum is slowly moving back in favour of the employer, I am still optimistic the market will be relatively good for NQs.
September 2023 NQ Timetable:
Engage a good and experienced recruitment consultant. Ask friends for referrals; speak to previous year trainees and find out who they would recommend; look for specialists in your market. LinkedIn is a great tool for checking your recruiters background if they are unknown to you. Check their online LinkedIn recommendations to see if they have moved candidates similar to you and have experience of your chosen practice area and location. A good recruiter will be able to advise you on the range of opportunities available and the best way of going about securing a position. Try to start the process of making internal applications to the jobs you want at your training firm.
Start thinking about the area of law that you would like to practice and the locations you would like to work in. Also try and engineer discussions with your training firm about your final seat. Aim to make that seat work for you and your chosen practice area on qualification.
Prepare your paperwork. Work with your recruiter to produce a strong CV that is tailored to the roles and locations you are targeting. Consider including a profile that highlights your motivations and career ambitions. Also consider who you will use as referees and make sure your academic certificates are accessible in case needed.
April / May
Continue to investigate internal applications. Ensure you have a strong LinkedIn profile which can be viewed by potential employers to support your application. Add a professional picture to your LinkedIn profile if needed and try to ensure you have good, professional content on your page. Your LinkedIn profile is the main access point to your information alongside your CV. It is equally as important.
Try to focus on the geographical areas and specific discipline you are looking for. Make applications and attend interviews in these areas. Hopefully with some detailed interview coaching and support from your recruitment consultant you can secure the position you want.
If you have not secured a position in your chosen location / discipline continue to keep a watchful eye on your local market. Also, this is the time to widen the search into different geographical areas or a 2nd choice discipline.
If you are still available in August widen your search with recruiters to ensure you are visible for when those final September positions are released.
Start your new position.
About The Author | Jason Nottage
One of the main driving forces behind Originlegal, Jason joined as a Director shortly after its launch and brings a wealth of experience in legal recruitment from a career dating back to 1998.
For a confidential conversation about the NQ market Please contact Jason Nottage:
[email protected] 01206 233 503