MARKET – TRENDS IN 2020

Ardent

It has now been six months since the national lockdown was announced, during this time the legal recruitment market in London has changed significantly.

To truly assess the impact on the private practice recruitment market we conducted a detailed analysis of active vacancies from January 2020 to August 2020 with a view to comparing activity levels at specific times. This analysis has included a range of contentious and non-contentious practice areas such as Corporate, Real estate, Construction, Employment, Commercial Dispute Resolution, Financial Services, Funds, Commercial Technology, Data Protection,

Pre-lockdown – mid-January to mid-March

 During the busy period leading up to mid-March, levels of recruitment and hiring patterns were along the lines expected in a buoyant market.

A significant proportion of our vacancies (43%) arose were with large international and UK Top 20 firms.

All of the Magic Circle were very active, and other UK Top 20 firms had a similarly large appetite with multiple vacancies across several departments.

UK Top 50 firms (excluding the Top 20) and Top 100 firms (51st to 100th by revenue) and smaller/boutique London firms were equally enthusiastic, accounting for 21% and 36% of our vacancies, respectively.

Ongoing Adjustment – Mid-May to Mid-July

From mid-May to mid-July, as businesses gradually adjusted, as best they could, and the economy slowly started opening up again, the legal recruitment market picked up marginally.  Compared to the start of the year, less than a quarter as many vacancies arose week to week, but this was still a massive improvement on the period immediately following lockdown when the country seemed caught in inertia.

Relative to their recruitment appetite pre-pandemic, the larger firms seem to remain amongst the most cautious.  Whilst they released twice as many vacancies as the period mid-March to mid-May, that’s still 85% less than at the start of the year.

UK Top 21-50 firms, on the other hand, appeared more prompt to start hiring again, with activity levels already standing at 44% relative to the baseline provided by the pre-lockdown period.

Top 100 firms (51st to 100th by revenue) and smaller/boutique London firms, that had almost entirely ceased hiring resumed a bold return.  Relative to the start of the year, they now released nearly a quarter as many new vacancies.

Areas such as Data Protection, Contentious Construction, Commercial Litigation and Insurance have started to stand out as in-demand areas, as to be expected in a market where work-from-home heightens cyber risks, building projects encounter logistical difficulties, and firms ready themselves for an increase in disputes.  Commercial Real Estate and corporate vacancies remain almost absent from the list.

Immediately Post-Lockdown – Mid-March to Mid-May

Following the lockdown announcement for two whole months there were scarcely any new vacancies.

Firms of all shapes and sizes gradually started to announce cost cutting measures such as temporary pay cuts (sometimes with an accompanying reduction in hours/days, sometimes without), delayed or cancelled bonuses or reviews, NQ salary reductions or freezes, trainee deferrals, adjustments to partner drawings and distributions, and furloughs for many staff as well as some fee earners.  Pay freezes across the board were to be expected in the light of these other measures.

During this two-month period, our new job-count from larger firms (Magic Circle, international UK Top 20) plummeted by 92% compared to the previous two months.  The vacancy tally with UK Top 50 firms also declined by 84%, and there were barely any new London roles with firms ranked 51st to 100th by revenue or smaller/boutique London firms.

Whil