The talent wars: Recruiting lawyers in 2023 and beyond
In recent years, we’ve seen an intensification of the war for talent within the UK legal sector. Demand for candidates has outstripped supply, with many law firms and in-house teams struggling in a candidate’s market. But what does the future hold for recruitment in the legal sector? And what is the secret to attracting and retaining the best legal minds?
From firms with benefits to a more balanced relationship?
Higher salaries and an array of non-financial rewards have become the norm across much of our sector. There are signs, however, that the sector has reached a peak, with salaries stabilising and the ratio of job openings to applicants levelling off.
With the recruitment market seemingly swinging back in the favour of employers, recent changes we’ve observed in the legal industry are also helping to bolster recruitment efforts. In particular, the Solicitors Qualifying Examination is opening up the legal job market with a non-traditional route for people to qualify. For in-house teams this means that someone from within the organisation can qualify into the team, offering clear advantages in terms of company knowledge and experience. It’s also opening the door for more foreign lawyers to qualify in the UK, bringing with them different perspectives, skills, experiences and mindsets.
Winning the hearts and minds of today’s legal recruits
While the pendulum may have swung back to a slightly more employer-friendly job market, this doesn’t mean that we’ve returned to the job market of old. As you can see in this global survey by Multilaw, law graduates’ expectations and demands have evolved and today go well beyond traditional salary and benefits considerations. They are, for instance, far more likely to be ask critical and searching questions of their potential employers. This means that both law firms and in-house teams should be taking a more holistic view of what they’re offering, and of their culture and values.
Finding the balance on work-life balance
Across all sectors, home-working and more flexible working practices introduced during the pandemic have proven very popular. Creating a collegiate atmosphere and a sense of team is, however, especially important in high pressure environments, such as the legal sector. Striking a balance between the two is not always easy. While the recent trend has been towards hybrid roles, with a maximum number of days away from the office, an element of remote working is most definitely here to stay. Offering non-traditional ways of working will therefore be a key means to differentiate from the rest and attract the best.
Using ESG as a market differentiator
Many jobseekers today clearly have a very different outlook to that of previous generations, and it’s vital that the firms that wish to attract them understand their expectations. At Walker Morris, we’re now routinely asked at graduate recruitment fairs, for instance, about our firm’s net-zero ambitions, commitments and activities. Employers need to be able to demonstrate real, tangible plans and progress in these areas – not just a snappy slogan or lofty goals. There’s even been instances of protests at job fairs by students, so our sector should expect an increased emphasis on social justice issues in the future, with students more and more likely to examine potential employers through this wider lens.
Offering varied career options
The days of a single, linear career path are now all but over. While many lawyers still wish to qualify, work hard, and then do whatever it takes to become a partner or GC, this conventional career trajectory doesn’t apply to everyone. Many talented lawyers don’t want to follow a rigid career trajectory, and employers that fail to offer them anything different – such as opportunities to upskill or different means to grow professionally – will lose them to those employers that do.
Focussing on what matters
Ultimately, the secret to getting the best talent lies not in simply adjusting financial and non-financial benefits to market vagaries. Listening to and learning from prospective employees is truly enlightening, and its organisations that benefit from this knowledge and understanding that are able to create truly attractive and inspiring places to work.
“Many jobseekers today clearly have a very different outlook to that of previous generations, and it’s vital that the firms that wish to attract them understand their expectations.”