In 2021 we saw the private practice legal recruitment market bounce back to record levels of recruitment across nearly all practice areas and at all levels. If there was one common theme that all law firms shared it was “how do we retain talent and hire the best people in the market?”

Record breaking salaries

With demand at record levels, as the summer ended eye watering salaries were being announced both in London and the regions. This was the start of talent being monetised in a way that did not seem possible just twelve months before and the creation of a salary war! Fast forward to 2022 and many more firms have rushed to keep up with the Kardashians (stet, their competitor law firms) in a race to announce record breaking headline salary increases. Many UK firms have exceeded the six-figure level for newly qualified associates with the promise of further salary reviews before the year is out.

As we move forward towards what we hope will be a more normal spring (however we now define normal) the scene is set for a busy year.

Do working patterns help retain talent?

Before the pandemic home working was seen as a desirable but not essential option. The need for this was often pushed by the more junior end of the profession who were looking to achieve a balanced approach to practising law. As we learn to live with the effects of the pandemic, hybrid working looks set to be here for the long-term with everyone realising this new way of working can be beneficial on a number of levels. Firms’ commitments to hybrid working is now one of the most important considerations for candidates looking to make a lateral move.

Nearly all law firms have worked hard to create long lasting hybrid policies providing employees with a greater level of autonomy and flexibility. However, the message across the market is clear, the legal profession is still an apprenticeship trade. Collaboration and the need to develop strong internal and external relationships within an office environment is an important, if not essential, part of the profession.

Candidates approaches to hybrid working has changed over the last two years. For many working from home 100% of the time is no longer seen as an attractive option. With more lockdowns than any of us can remember and changes to home working being announced at less than short notice, for most people, the novelty of working from home all of the time has warn off. Most candidates are happy with the balanced approach afforded by hybrid working. However there are some candidates who are looking for more bespoke hybrid arrangements to reflect their commitments outside of work. This can become deal breakers for candidates looking to make a move.

Whilst bespoke arrangements for new hires can be difficult to achieve, there are an increasing number of firms allowing up to 100% remote working arrangements for more senior candidates. This trend is increasingly common in more niche areas where demand for talent has always been an issue. These types of arrangements remain the exception to the norm to ensure that precedents are not set across the wider firm.

Flexibility in hybrid models

Nearly all firms have seen an influx of regional candidates looking to take advantage of London salaries via hybrid working models without physically relocating to the city. Law firms are trying to be as accommodating as possible to these sorts of arrangements. However, the onus is very much on the individual to make sure that these arrangements will work in practice and be a sustainable way of working. Most firms require a level of flexibility around which days are spent in the office to ensure clients needs are not compromised by more rigid hybrid working arrangements.

Candidates with international links continue to be keen for firms to clarify their approach to time spent working overseas for personal reasons as part of their time “working from home”. This is especially true for candidates with friends and family, or second homes located within easy reach of the UK. Most firms have adopted a hard-line view to these requests due to concerns around tax and regulatory issues. We will wait and see if this is something that will change in the future.

It is too early to tell how firms approaches to hybrid working will change, but it is hoped that this way of working will also create some other benefits. One possible long-lasting side effect is the extent to which hybrid working will allow the legal profession to become more accessible and sustainable to those looking to balance the demands of the profession with life outside work and allow for more equality and diversity to be achieved.

What more can be done to retain talent?

With recruitment at record levels, salaries at an all-time high and hybrid working policies in place, recruiting partners are still asking what more can be done to attract and retain talent. Undoubtably, this will be one of the biggest questions of 2022 and beyond.

Despite the wave of change that we have seen over the last two years one thing has not changed. Firms and teams need to have a clear identity, strong cultural values and a vision for the future. It is this clarity and sense of purpose that should resonate the most with candidates. It will provide a level of satisfaction that will lead to greater longevity far outweighing the craze of the current salary war and push-back on hybrid working models.

 

Please do get in touch with any of the consultants at Ardent Legal Recruitment for a confidential chat about the legal recruitment market. If you are thinking about making a move we would love to hear from you.