This is an “everything you need to know” guide if you are a trainee solicitor qualifying in 2022. It will also provide useful advance information for lawyers ahead of qualification in 2023. With helpful details on the 2021 market, this guide provides information on the current legal market, practicing law offshore, tips and information on running a successful job hunt process and some useful details on qualifying as a solicitor.
Hopefully this guide will give you all the information you need to help make informed and successful choices to get your career off to the best start.
Bouncebackability, a term normally associated with sport -particularly football, is the ideal word to describe the legal profession in the UK in 2021 following an incredible year of growth. When we consider 2020 was the post Brexit year of covid lockdowns, furlough, limited NQ opportunity, shelved recruitment projects and limited expansion - 2021 bounced back incredibly. At Origin legal it has been a record year in terms of number of placements. The bull market of 2021 was created by a combination of factors coming together at the same time. I will explore these below.
Solicitors decided to move. Following the uncertainty of 2020 many solicitors saw 2021 as a great time to move. With increased opportunity across the profession, generous salaries and the increase in flexible working many solicitors moved to find a position more suitable. Given the amount of working from home during 2020, long-term ties and bonds to geographical regions were broken which led to many more lawyers considering their options.
Law firms have always demonstrated an amazing ability to adapt and this was obvious as we entered the covid era. Clients, lawyers and law firms developed their use of technology to enable better working practices. Having this set up and in place allowed great flexibility with home working patterns and therefore a wider range of locations for potential candidates to consider. Some law firms now only require staff to attend an office once or twice a month.
2021 saw the continued rapid growth of virtual law firms where some 1875 lawyers were employed at the beginning of the year. These firms along with the Alternative Business Structure firms are very much here to stay and are going from strength to strength. Continued growth at law firms like Keystone Law, Nexa, Bexley Beaumont and Taylor Rose has been particularly notable in 2021. As I predicted last year their strategy fits hand in glove with the current pattern of working remotely.
The government has continued to drive forward initiatives to fuel the economy which has helped the legal profession. The Government extended its stamp duty exemption on the first £500k to the 30th June 2021 to help continue to fuel the residential property market. This drove forward an already buoyant market with the government reporting a UK House Price increase of 11.8% in 2021 with England reporting 11.5%. Interestingly house prices in the North- West increased the most in England.
As we enter 2022 life as an NQ solicitor looks very positive. I expect to see most trainees get offered the role they want and to be able to stay at their current firm. Retention rates were at record levels in 2021. I sense that this should continue into 2022. The added bonus for the NQ market is that we should find a greater number of external NQ positions as law firms continue their need to recruit in high numbers.
As in 2021, I encountered far fewer trainee solicitors looking at options, many having decided early to remain with their principal training firm.
*Legal Cheeks retention rates study
It feels like it is a golden time to be a solicitor and a great time to qualify into the profession.
I wish you every success for 2022
A market to get it right first time.
With the market in such great shape, I would encourage any aspiring lawyer to try and work out your preferred area of law as early as possible. Talk to colleagues and friends about life in certain areas of law to help shape your decisions. Try to engage with your firm about the chances of being retained and getting the area of law you want. Even 2023 qualifiers should be researching and considering these questions.
I believe the first position is most important so try to get it right first time. With some of the lofty salaries being floated around the market in 2021 I would strongly encourage you to try and not make decisions based on money. Ask yourself the following questions:
1 What is my preferred area of law?
2 What areas of the law am I good at/have the greatest aptitude for?
3 What type of law firm do I want to be at?
4 What are my long-term career aspirations?
5 Do I have any geographical boundaries?
6 What training do I need?
Whenever you qualify it is always good to have focus and there are real advantages to considering these questions and making decisions early.
Many law firms have acknowledged these changes in NQ thinking over the last few 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. 2021 saw many NQ lawyers report they had secured a position at their firm early.
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.
Do not consider the highest salary necessarily to be the best offer for you. Consider any offer against the 5 questions above and hopefully your decision making will be solid.
International & Offshore NQ market
As we enter 2022, the demand for lawyers in the offshore sector is strong. In over two decades of international legal recruitment, few years have defied expectations like the last one and this shows no signs of abating. At the time of writing, active recruitment for March is already underway and it won’t be long before roles for September start to feed through. As always, demand is strongest in corporate, banking and finance, investment funds, financial services, trusts and commercial litigation, so a seat in one or more of these will be a big advantage. With Cayman 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, great 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 or Asia. Starting salaries with the leading firms are around £65k with 20% tax (plus 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.
In the international onshore sector, openings for NQs can be unpredictable as many roles target applicants with at least one or two years’ PQE. Whilst the market is good in Asia and improving in the Middle East after a quiet year or two, there is no single jurisdiction which is so buoyant that we would forecast widespread NQ recruitment. Rather they are ad-hoc vacancies, and they typically arise later in the day when firms own internal processes are finalised. Still, there always is and will undoubtedly be opportunities across all these locations so if you have strong credentials, and particularly if you have relevant international exposure or language skills, it is well worth registering your interest. Even if it doesn’t work out immediately, we can advise you on how to position yourself now to make your next move an international move.
If you would like more information about the international market for NQ lawyers, please contact Jason Horobin. 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/
Focus on Planning law
2021 saw unprecedented levels of recruitment into the Planning and Environment sector. Although busy across the board, the number of vacancies at the junior level, including NQs was exceptionally high as practices sought to keep up with high volumes of work generated across the development and infrastructure sector. An aggravating factor was the reduced numbers of overseas lawyers coming to the UK due to 2021 travel restrictions. This increase in work meant that most firms with strong planning teams were able to offer internal planning NQs a role on qualification. However, the large number of vacancies also meant that NQs had options on qualification as well. Although London traditionally tends to attract planning NQs due to the higher potential salaries, there were more regional opportunities for lawyers especially with the core planning law firms who continue to invest in the growth of their teams outside of the capital.
2021 also saw a large growth in environment roles as the UK moves to awards achieving its goal to reach net zero and energy independence. An increase in renewable energy projects and more complex regulations surrounding larger infrastructure projects means environment law is higher up the agenda than ever which will mean further growth and opportunities this year.
If 2022 proves to be as busy as 2021, then aspiring lawyers with ambitions to qualify into the planning and environment law are likely to have a variety of opportunities and will benefit from speaking to an expert in the market before accepting the first job they are offered.
Stuart Phillips is a Managing Consultant at Origin with particular a focus on Planning law with and can be contacted on 07725 246 857 or [email protected]
September 2022 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 backgrounds 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.
Origin Legal is recognised as one of the UK’s leading providers of legal jobs at all levels for lawyers, legal executives, solicitors, and paralegals.
To find out more about the NQ Market, discuss your options, or to register an interest, please contact the team at Origin Legal on +44 (0)1206 233500:
Jason Nottage Director Midlands and Home Counties North E: [email protected]
Andrew Porter Director East Anglia, Essex and Herts E: [email protected]
James Wheelhouse Managing Consultant South and South West E: [email protected]
Jason Horobin Head of International and Offshore Division E: [email protected]
Stuart Phillips Managing Consultant London E: [email protected]
John Ambrose Managing Consultant London E: [email protected]
Sarah Stant Senior Consultant South East E: [email protected]
Clare Traverse Consultant North West and Scotland E: [email protected]
Alex Fielding Consultant West Midlands, Oxford and Cheltenham E: [email protected]
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