If the second half of 2021 is as busy as the first, we believe 2021 will see the legal private practice recruitment market bounce back to record levels.


Increased confidence

Evidence of this recovery emerged in January when job flow began to increase significantly compared to the previous 12 months. The majority of Top 100 UK law firms and US firms announced better financial results than the market had forecasted. The impact was that by April and May job flow had reached record levels with no sign of a slowdown. Confidence surrounding the pandemic coupled with strong financial results lead to unprecedented numbers of opportunities across all practice areas.

The majority of private practice firms were feeling optimistic and eager to secure the best talent in the market.


Candidate viewpoint

The pandemic has had a mixed impact on candidates. From our conversations, we knew that many had spent lockdown reflecting on what they wanted from their career. Some were hesitant to make a move due in part to the impact of further lockdowns. There was significant uncertainty around future working arrangements once the work from home requirement was lifted.  In contrast, others were determined to make moves that they would not have anticipated before the pandemic.

Until recently the overall impact of market uncertainty has been a net loss of active candidates. However, in recent months candidates are now feeling more confident about the future and are more willing to consider making a move.


Record salary increases

In a market that is used to dealing with a shortage of good candidates at the best of times, firms have been quick to respond to the changing market conditions. In recent months we have seen a record level of salary increases across all practice areas. This has been coupled with a return of sign-on bonuses and immediate promotions to senior associate/ legal director/ counsel/ first-step partners to those candidates who are keen to make a move.


Return to the office

Unlike some other sectors, law firms have not insisted their employees return to the office too quickly. Most firms are adopting some form of hybrid working model. This will allow employees the option to continue to work from home for a proportion of the time.

Until normality prevails, it is hard to say how much the working arrangements for those within private practice firms will change as a result of the pandemic. However, in an ever-competitive market the retention of talent and acquisition of the best new talent are law firms’ biggest assets. We believe that law firms will be ahead of other professional service sectors in adopting market leading hybrid working models that employees are satisfied with. That said, law firms are mindful that fee-earning, at least for juniors is still an apprenticeship trade and some things can only ever be learnt by osmosis!


Law firms want to invest in new talent. More candidates are concluding that now is the right time to make that all important next step in their career. In summary our forecast for the rest of 2021 is that recruitment will remain busy.


Please do get in touch with the consultants at Ardent Legal Recruitment for a confidential chat about the legal recruitment market bounce back, or if you are thinking about making a move.