This article was originally published in Today's Conveyancer.
Now that the coronavirus pandemic seems to be on the backfoot, and the Government are attempting to kick start the UK economy, we wanted to take a look at what effect the pandemic has had on the legal job market.
Of those employees surveyed by Realm Recruit 38% said they would actively start looking for alternative employment once the pandemic has subsided, this is an increase of the 24% who said they were actively seeking alternate options prior to Covid-19.
Today’s Conveyancer approached two legal recruiters, Michael McGaw, Director at Nelson Chambers and Joe Rees from Thornton Legal, to see how they felt the pandemic had affected the legal job market.
Here in the UK, we seemed to bounce from one thing to another. No sooner had the Brexit uncertainty seemed to have stabilized then the coronavirus pandemic hit.
Joe Rees, revealed that the job market was buoyant pre- Covid, and he seemed to think the stabilization of Brexit had very little impact.
“I don’t think confirmation of the Withdrawal Agreement affected confidence. Confidence was, in the main, already riding high with law firms of all sizes recruiting to replace leavers and to support expansion across a number of practice areas.”
Michael agreed with Joe about the pre-Covid-19 market. He commented:
“The pre-Covid market was one that having seen the back of the Brexit decision, regardless of what decision it was, a confident market keen to press ahead and execute 2020 business plans. As a result, the best firms were out to attract the best talent to help them realise these plans.”
Pre-Covid, it seems that there were jobs across the vast majority of the legal sector. However, roles in the property law space seemed to have more vacancies that those in other practice areas.
Then the pandemic took hold and on 23 March 2020 the UK went into lockdown which spelt disaster for many firms and their employees.
With no money coming in, any recruitment plans for firms had to be put on hold, becoming another casualty of the pandemic.
Michael McGaw, revealed that the pandemic hasn’t completely deterred some firms from pressing ahead with their recruitment plans. He said:
“There is some disparity in how businesses have chosen to operate during Covid-19 lockdown time. We are working with clients who are “sticking to the plan”, who are if anything seeing increases in certain practice areas. At the other end of that scale, sit the firms who have battened down the hatches, firms who perhaps didn’t have a strong enough or established enough foothold in their markets – these firms have struggled and in some cases, ceased trading. Sitting in between these two extremes are the majority who, like most UK businesses, are holding tight and observing the ever-changing landscape. The best firms have their options thought out already and as such, they are reacting quickly and ahead of their competition.”
Joe Rees, shared similar views with regards to the clients he has been dealing with. He revealed:
“Recruitment fell off a cliff when lockdown happened. Interviews stopped dead, vacancies were put on hold or cancelled all together and some offers were pulled last minute leaving the candidate out of work. It was a really tough time.”
However, lockdown couldn’t last forever, and thankfully there is light at the end of the tunnel.
In the UK, although each devolved Government is taking a slightly different path, restrictions across the board are slowly being lifted, in an attempt to get the economy moving again.
Regarding life after lockdown, Joe commented:
“As we come out of lockdown, recruitment procedures will be dictated by firms own Covid-19 policies. Some are easing back into the office and, if they have the space, are happy to interview face to face with the correct protocols in place. Of course, this will only happen if both parties are agreeable.
“On the flip side others, which seem to be the larger city firms, aren’t looking to open their offices fully again until at least August which fits into well when they will start hiring again after the summer freeze.
“Some essential hires will be made virtually, but the majority of clients and candidates will want to meet face to face before final decisions are made. It’s a complicated situation and no size fits all.”
Michael thinks the adaptations firms have made as a result of the lockdown have helped them to progress their recruitment process quicker.
Although face to face interviews may not be happening often, the adaptation of technology is helping to break down some barriers.
“We need to be able to draw positives from even the worst situations, the rainbow we see post the storm. In this instance, we need to recognise how adaptable most of us have been and at very short notice. How so many firms developed work from home procedures which protected jobs, protecting incomes, and protected companies for the best people. The adoption of technology has meant that we can continue to collaborate with customers and colleagues (although there is no substitution for actual face to face). So, whilst face to face interviews can and should resume where possible, we can speed processes up by conducting early stages using video conferences and alike.”
The Government introduced the Job Retention Scheme, also known as the furlough scheme, to help employers and employees retain their jobs during the crisis. However, this scheme is now beginning to wind down and its thought it will provide more issues for legal sector recruitment.
Joe Rees, commented:
“I’m afraid so. Most of the redundancies I’m hearing about are in residential property with departments slimming down to survive the looming recession. Alongside the cost saving angle, firms will use this as an opportunity to move on poor performers and, when the market gets back on its feet, look to replace them with better quality. While many practice areas are busy, getting the balance right between when to return staff from furlough and the economy struggles is going to be real challenge. Having said that, many firms are already returning staff from furlough so there is some cause for optimism.”
With firms still attempting to find their feet as they begin to adjust to life after lockdown, and the economy starts its slow revival, its safe to say that the recruitment market will take a little time before it can begin functioning anywhere near ‘normal’ again.