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Post Lock-down Update for the Legal Job Sector

The legal sector is not your typical recruitment market, so it’s been fascinating to observe how firms have reacted and responded to the lock-down and their hiring intentions and workforce planning. 

While it’s early days, there are some firms who are already pulling ahead of the rest when it comes to ensuring they capture exceptional talent in the months ahead. 

David McGregor gives us some insight from 8 weeks in legal lock-down:

1. How has Covid-19 and the lock-down affected the job market for the legal sector in New Zealand?

We’ve seen two core themes here across the legal firms sector. Firstly, client work has dried up significantly in certain practice areas (most notably M&A and Real Estate transactional work); additionally, employment law is very, very busy (and looks to be for some time!) Secondly, lock-down really illustrated the vulnerability the sector has around work flexibility. Many firms struggled to organise working from home capability and struggled to continue operations during lockdown. Those that managed this well have seen better capability through lock-down and are better adjusted as a result.

2. What are employers doing or planning to do in response?

While some firms are still actively hiring in busy practice areas, there is a general pause in hiring junior to intermediate staff as many firms assess the impact this has on not only their practice area, but also on wider client demand moving forward.

There is still strong demand from firms for senior profiles and particularly for lateral partner moves – many firms are seizing this opportunity to speak with specific people to discuss partnership opportunities.

3. Have you seen more candidates than normal?  

Yes. Recruitment in the legal space has always been severely constrained, but interestingly, I’ve had a number of good Kiwis returning from Hong Kong, Singapore and UK markets.

In the past couple of weeks, I’ve also fielded interest from seniors in in-house roles, who are considering a move back to private practice firms, due to the unprecedented work volumes they’re now being asked to do without budget for external counsel support. 

But as always, strong legal candidates are still being very selective in organisations that they are interested in joining. 

5. Have you seen more Kiwis returning from overseas (or inquiring about returning?)

Yes, I have many who are in holding patterns within different jurisdictions having such different lock-down and quarantine regimes. They are, however, determined to come home and will be a welcome addition to the legal sector in New Zealand.

6. What opportunities are you seeing for employers right now?

Employers right now have the ability to connect with top candidates who aren’t exactly ready to make a move, but are still interested in making the connection for the future.

Employers who are doing this are going to be miles ahead of firms that aren’t doing this or simply say – “sorry, hiring freeze.” If you meet great candidates without an open role, whether direct or through agency, it doesn’t set unrealistic expectations for either party.  

If there’s a “match” then that can be kept warm/active until an open role comes up and then the firm is instantly likely to fill a usually tough opening. Strong lawyers are fee accretive – it makes no sense not to meet them! 

7. What opportunities are you seeing for job seekers right now?   

This has been a great opportunity to reflect. Many lawyers have actually had some time to pause and think hard about whether they want to stay with their current employer. Now is exactly the time to start conversations for career moves/options, if you want to explore angles for a potential move in the next 6 months.

8. What advice do you have for job seekers?   

Be selective and don’t buy into the panic of the media or market whispers. Lawyers are going to be in demand, always. I am working with various firms who are quietly and selectively hiring for their future.

9. Which skills continue to be highly sought after by employers, despite current conditions?

I’m a broken record on this – firms are always looking for lawyers who are able to connect with their clients and build relationships – not just pump out highly technical work product.  

Client focused lawyers are proactively picking up the phone and engaging with their clients during and after lock-down, rather than waiting for instructions to roll in the email box. Already, there are great stories on how the best legal minds are helping to shape business decisions in a post-lock-down environment.

10. Where do you see the market heading and how can job seekers and employers make the most of it?  

Overall, the market (unsurprisingly) is in a holding pattern. We’re arranging quite a lot of meetings in the background. It will be very busy in the next 3 to 6 months when firms have certainty – the time to engage with talent is now.

11. Despite it all, what have you learnt or developed through lock-down and how will it help you moving forward?  

There’s only so much watching Paw Patrol that I can do with my kids! I learned that what we take for granted can disappear very quickly. I’d like to think that I appreciate everyday things far better and I am better for that.

If you are in the legal sector and interested in what is happening in the market right now – connect with David McGregor for a confidential discussion.

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