by Jason Nottage, Director Origin Legal
If you are a trainee solicitor approaching qualification or you have recently qualified this is a definitive guide to assist with starting your career as a solicitor. This is an unmissable document shedding light on regional market trends, how to run and prepare for a recruitment process and tips to get your career off to the very best start.
Well, looking back, that was a very interesting year. I think, on a personal level, I have never helped advise so many NQ lawyers in a calendar year but seen so few high-quality opportunities. The level of opportunity (particularly in London) has been at the worst since 2010-2011 (excluding the 2020 covid pandemic) but, if I am honest, not as severe as the recession of 2008-2009. We have, thankfully, been able to find the roles required for those candidates we have worked with but it has certainly been a very challenging year.
2023 - Levelling off
If you read my 2023 guide, you might recall a section I wrote about levelling off. To recap, I was predicting that the NQ market and some wider legal recruitment would start to ease off. NQ Salaries would not continue to accelerate at the pace we had seen in the previous two years and the number of vacancies available would drop. If I am honest, I did not expect 2023 to be as difficult a year for NQs as it turned out, I even wrote a second mini-guide update in May 2023 when I started to sense the direction things were heading. However, retention rates remained very high this year and most solicitors found their place w. It was concerning that we had several really good NQ solicitors who struggled to find a position on qualification with both the unusually high March intake and also within the September intake.
I will try to explore what caused this and to offer some insight into what we might expect in 2024.
The cycle of demand
Everything has a life cycle and legal recruitment is no different. Post Covid we experienced a boom two years both in terms of opportunity and in the trajectory of salaries. From 2020-2023 we saw the biggest percentage increase in NQ salaries in recent history. Fuelled by client activity, law firms demand for talent grew and to attract that talent salaries rocketed. In 2023 that demand levelled off and in some areas dropped. As an example, Real Estate work dropped off in 2023 probably in part due to high borrowing costs. Overall, according to Vacancysoft UK legal vacancies were down 35% in 2023.
Most law firms are fully scrutinising every internal and external hire. Prior to recruiting any additional solicitors most law firms undertake a full study of utilisation of the existing team. Alongside this, partners will be conducting an evaluation of current and expected work levels and looking at pipeline to predict future work. Personally, I applaud this level of scrutiny as it leads to responsible recruitment which in turn will safeguard the job you are accepting.
In a market where there is less opportunity, we tend to see high NQ retention rates as trainees tend to stay with less choice in the market. The Lawyer retention rate blog is an excellent tool to track this year and is always a great resource at reporting retention rates.
As mentioned earlier we have seen some improvements in London however, regionally NQ salaries appear to have been held this year with limited or no increase.
The Lawyer and Legal Cheek are very useful in guiding you with salaries.
Making a good start
Moving on to the most important bit…. your legal career. Entering the legal profession is a significant achievement, but the journey does not end with qualification. The transition from student to legal professional comes with its own set of challenges and opportunities. Navigating this phase requires a blend of legal expertise, professional development and a strategic approach to your career.
Getting your first NQ position continues to be one of the most important decisions of your 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?
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.
Here is a few more points to consider at the very start of your career as a solicitor.:
- Identify your areas of interest and strengths within the legal field. Specializing in a particular niche can enhance your expertise and marketability. Explore various practice areas during your training contract to understand where your passion lies.
- Legal education does not stop after qualification. Stay updated on changes in legislation, landmark cases, and industry trends. Engage in continuous professional development through seminars, courses, and staying abreast of legal publications.
- Networking is vital in the legal profession. Cultivate relationships with mentors, peers, and senior lawyers. Attend industry events, join professional organizations, and leverage social media platforms for networking opportunities.
- Developing strong client relationships is crucial. Effective communication, understanding client needs and providing practical solutions are key. As an NQ lawyer, focus on delivering value and building trust with clients.
- Maintaining a work-life balance is essential for a successful legal career. Prioritize your well-being to avoid burnout. Efficient time management and setting boundaries are crucial to manage workload and personal life effectively.
- Adhere to the highest ethical standards. Upholding integrity and ethical conduct is fundamental in the legal profession. Always prioritize the interests of your clients and maintain confidentiality.
- Be proactive in seeking opportunities for career advancement. Consider secondments, pro bono work or additional certifications to broaden your skillset and experience.
- Request feedback from supervisors and colleagues to identify areas for improvement. Constructive criticism is invaluable for professional growth.
- Stay updated with technological advancements in the legal industry. Embrace legal tech tools to streamline workflows, enhance efficiency, and provide better services to clients.
- Create a long-term career plan. Set achievable short-term goals that align with your aspirations. Periodically reassess and adjust your career trajectory as needed.
- The transition from trainee to qualified lawyer is an exciting phase filled with opportunities for growth and development. By focusing on continual learning, relationship-building, ethical practice, and a strategic approach to your career, you can pave the way for a successful and fulfilling journey in the legal profession.
- Remember, your journey as a legal professional is unique, and each experience contributes to your growth. Embrace challenges, seek opportunities for learning, and enjoy the rewarding path of a newly qualified lawyer.
What if I do not get the position I really want
If your firm are unable to offer you the position that you really want and you are struggling to find the right opportunity, I would encourage you to continue to pursue opportunities at your training firm and any offers to stay on should be seriously considered. If your hand is forced and you need to leave and look elsewhere my 5 key points of advice would be:
- If you can consider relocating to find the type of firm and work you want, then that would really help.
- Try to consider all firms and opportunities, not just the ones at similar sized firms. Seeking a job at a smaller or medium-sized firm can be provide a whole range of other benefits in a difficult market.
- Consider what other practice areas you might like if you cannot secure your preferred practice area.
- In a very competitive market ensure that you have a professional CV, LinkedIn profile and you are ready and well prepared for interviews.
- Keep very alert to the market and keep control of your recruitment process including where your CV is sent.
How to build a great personal brand as a Trainee Solicitor - Imran Ilias
“As I approach qualification, my goal is to stand out.”
In the digital age, establishing a robust brand is indispensable for professionals in any field, including trainee solicitors. A meticulously curated digital profile not only elevates personal branding but also functions as a potent tool for networking, bolstering credibility, and staying abreast of legal trends.
This article delves into the evolution of my profile as a Trainee Solicitor, emphasizing the pivotal role networking has played throughout my journey. Originating from my undergraduate days at Aston University, where I served as the President of the Bangladeshi Society, I cultivated networking skills by orchestrating social events and collaborating with various Midlands university societies. This initial phase laid the foundation for expanding both my personal and professional networks, transcending academic confines into the business world post-graduation. My involvement with the law society afforded opportunities to share my legal journey through panel discussions, fostering relationships with students and faculty, thereby expanding my network further.
Transition to the Business World
Transitioning to Wilson Browne marked a significant shift, where networking within the business community became a focal point, a practice strongly endorsed by the firm. I seized every opportunity to represent the firm, establishing recognition within the community. Regular interactions with referrers, including financial planners and accountants, became an integral part of role.
Drawing upon experiences as a Paralegal and Vacation Scheme Student in various firms, I understood the power of internal networking. It became apparent that knowing colleagues across different practice areas is invaluable in the interconnected legal industry. Despite being early on in my career, I’ve bumped into countless number of former colleagues who are now current colleagues. It’s good to get yourself out there, especially when it comes to cross referral of work.
Find the net.
Every single one of us is unique and we have our own interests. People enjoy doing different things. You need to find out what.
I have always preferred organic networking rather than speed networking events. That’s just my preference. Yours may be different and it is important you try out different formats of networking events to find out what you’re most comfortable in. I personally prefer networking at sporting events or activity led events, such as golf, football and or even escape rooms. These environments tend to provide a backdrop for building connections in a relaxed atmosphere allowing you to build more meaningful relationships. I prefer speaking to a few people and getting to know them well rather than trying to speak to everyone present at the event – which is an impossible task! Do not be afraid to try something new! I am not the best golfer (I definitely need lessons) but it’s fun learning a new sport. The golf course provides an ideal backdrop for meaningful conversations, building trust and camaraderie. In just four hours, you will be amazed at how much you can discover about each other.
You need to remember that you’re not going to walk out of every networking event with leads on your first day. What I found useful was attending different types of networking events and sticking to the ones I enjoyed – to develop cultivating genuine relationships, you’ll need to keep up monthly attendance and work your way around the room.
Committees and Leadership Roles:
Serving on the committee for the Milton Keynes & Northamptonshire Next Generation Chamber of Commerce has allowed me to contribute to the business community in a leadership capacity. In addition, as the National Representative for the Northants Buckinghamshire Junior Lawyers Division, I play a vital role in connecting legal professionals, fostering collaboration and contributing to the growth of the legal community. This has been great for raising my own profile as I am often representing my firm as well as wearing multiple other hats. I would recommend you join your local committees; it opens doors to like-minded individuals who are often at the same stage of their professional lives, you can bounce off each other, and grow together.
LinkedIn is a powerful tool all professionals should be utilising. It’s important to keep updated with your connections, news and upcoming networking events. It’s a useful tool to follow up with people you have met in person and add them to your network. You never know when that individual is going to require your services, or vice versa. I tend to add people I have met in person after the event so I can keep in touch.
Networking is not just a tool for career advancement; it's a testament to the relationships built along the way. From campus societies to boardrooms and sports events, my journey as a trainee solicitor is defined by a genuine passion for connecting with people. As I approach qualification, my goal is to stand out. Networking has provided me with numerous leads for my firm, across many disciplines ranging from litigation, employment, commercial property, and private client. I am proud to be able to represent and offer services of the firm. As I embark on the next chapter of my career, I am committed to continuing my networking commitments and grow my own personal brand.
Opportunities for Newly Qualified Lawyers in the Offshore Sector
As we enter 2024, the demand for junior lawyers in the offshore sector remains steady, with the 10 market leading offshore law firms continuing to recruit across their international networks. While the market in 2022 reached fever-pitch, 2023 was more subdued, with plenty of activity but more caution in hiring decisions. As usual, demand has been strongest in corporate, banking and finance, investment funds, financial services, trusts and private wealth, and commercial litigation, and we would anticipate the same picture next year. Good academics and a training contract with a respected UK/ International firm with high-quality seats in one or more of these practice areas will be a big advantage when pursuing an NQ role in the offshore market.
With the Cayman Islands and Bermuda requiring that overseas lawyers have three years’ PQE (to grant a work permit), Jersey and Guernsey remain the jurisdictions of choice for NQs entering the offshore world. These are no poor relations; what the Channel Islands might lack in exotic appeal, they more than make up for by offering that rare combination of big-ticket international work, good money, and genuine work-life balance. Join a top firm here and you can expect to get real hands-on involvement and client contact far earlier than might be the case in an equivalent City outfit, ideal if you are keen to fast-track your development. In the longer term, your experience will be prized by top UK firms should you decide to return home, although many more choose to build a career in the offshore world, either within the Channel Islands or further afield in the Caribbean (where a 3 years’ PQE lawyer can expect to earn over £125k tax-free).
Starting salaries with the leading firms are up to £75,000 with only 20% tax (plus a good bonus, relocation, and benefits package), and the advantages of island life are manifold. It is a friendly place, easy to settle and ideal for anyone who fancies a more outdoors, coastal lifestyle without compromising their career path.For further information see Newly Qualified Lawyers: A Guide to the 2024 International Market
Spotlight on East Anglia – Andrew Porter
2023 NQ recruitment in East Anglia followed the national trend. The growth and desire to hire NQ’s, which we had seen after covid, seemed to have peaked and whilst most firms retained large percentages of newly qualified’s, they were more reluctant to grow and add new talent at this level externally, feeling far more comfortable to recruit candidates at the two-year qualified mark, that perhaps needed less supervision.
On the back of a much smaller number of active roles, candidates that were not retained or looked for change, had to adopt a far more flexible approach to both geography and discipline and it was obvious to see the more flexible and early candidates, be the first to secure the limited supply of opportunities, I guess “the early bird, catches the worm”.
Whilst it is difficult to predict what 2024 will look like, we do anticipate and hope the economy to be stronger next year and therefore demand for NQ’s, particularly into corporate teams to be become more vibrant than it was in 2023.
Andrew Porter – East Anglia specialist
September 2024 NQ Timetable:
January / February
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. Try and engineer discussions with your training firm about your final seat. Try 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.
March / April / May
Continue to investigate internal applications. Ensure you have a strong LinkedIn profile which will be viewed by potential employers to support your application. Add a professional picture to your LinkedIn profile if needed and try to ensure 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 watching eye on your local market. Also, this is the time to widen the search into different geographical areas or a second 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