We may only be a month into 2021 but we are already seeing an increase in the number of active associate positions across all core practice areas, with a greater proportion of these vacancies being at the 2 PQE level plus. This correlates with the conversations we are having with lateral recruitment managers and hiring partners who are focusing on experienced hires because of potential difficulties training juniors remotely. The London offices of both Leading UK and US Law firms remain busy and are reporting higher levels of utilisation compared to the first three quarters of 2020.

Partnership recruitment was busy throughout 2020 as law firms continued to hire partners with strong individual business cases and those whose practice areas were key to strategic growth. Partner recruitment shows no sign of slowing down in the first month of this year and we are working on roles in a wide variety of practice areas. First step partnership positions for those senior associates, legal directors and counsel who can demonstrate strong client relationships remain possible especially where firms are facing succession issues in the medium term. A number of our consultants at Ardent are working on these roles at the moment.

Whilst some candidates are keen to understand what life after the pandemic will look like before they make any decisions about their career, in recent months there has been a greater level of candidate confidence across all practice areas. As we have all become accustomed to online meetings, the thought of an online interview process has become the new norm. Some candidates have expressed a preference for this style of interview as it provides a greater degree of confidentiality and minimises the risk of “bumping” into partners and colleagues en-route and offers a more time efficient way of fitting in interviews into overstretched schedules. In recent months, more opportunistic candidates who would be reluctant to describe themselves as actively looking for a new job, have found online interviews to be a good way to understand more about an opportunity, at least at a very initial first stage, to see if it is something that would tempt them to make a move.

There has also, perhaps unsurprisingly, been an increase in the number of candidates who are looking to relocate out of London to move closer to their families. Whilst this remains a potential win for regional firms, from the very early days of lockdown 1.0, a greater number of regional candidates have been keen to find a way of securing flexible positions in London that avoid the need for a permanent move but justify more lucrative London salaries. We expect this trend to continue as firms continue to develop their approach to agile working in the months and years that follow. It is our view that agile working will become a new currency in the post-pandemic years and that those firms with successful policies will be the ones securing top talent.

It is too early to provide any forecast for the months ahead but if the first month of this year is anything to go by, we can expect this to be a busy year for recruitment across all areas of private practice.

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

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