Law Job Prospects for 2014

In review, 2013 proved a mixed year for UK law jobs. Against a backdrop of the planned changes to Legal Aid provision and personal injury law and regular news of law firms falling into administration – particularly at the mid-tier level – there was generally felt to be more optimism about law job prospects and salaries than has been felt in the previous three or four years. 

At Simply Law Jobs, we can confirm an upward trend in law job postings, which is extremely encouraging for our registered jobseekers. Our figures show that during 2013 the number of law vacancies posted rose by 16% compared to the previous year – up from 117,258 in 2012 to a massive 136,362 in 2013.

There was particular growth in vacancies for Solicitors and legal executives in the North West and the Midlands, while London and the South East continued to offer the bulk of legal opportunities. International roles are also coming to the fore – with a significant number of legal jobs in the Middle East, Singapore and Brazil now regularly found on the site. 

Commentators expect further improvements in 2014. Jonathan Nolan, director of leading legal recruitment consultancy Douglas Scott, predicts that there will be steady growth in the legal services sector in 2014.

Law firms have the confidence to hire

Douglas Scott themselves have reported a strong 2013 – permanent placements are up 52% and candidate registrations up 30% compared y/o/y with the same period in 2012. “We perhaps have to look at these figures in the context of us having a great year, but the last six months of 2013 were indicative of a sector coming out of recession and law firms across the board having the confidence to hire,” says Nolan.

“The demand for Property Lawyers is outstripping supply. Five years ago Property Lawyers were the first to get hit, and within months the recession had created a black hole in most law firms’ residential and commercial conveyancing departments.” 

Many more practice areas are also starting to warm up, according to Nolan. “Following the reforms in public funding, Family Law departments have now successfully adjusted their business models and Private Client departments are feeling the benefits from the upturn in property and the return of a culture of wealth creation. Perhaps the most significant indication that there is momentum behind business confidence is that deals are starting to happen again and on the back of that Corporate and Commercial teams are getting busier.” 

From some quarters there is caution about choosing law as a career. Baroness Ruth Deech QC commented on a BBC Radio 4 programme (Law in Action) in October 2013 that the number of pupillages “had decreased and will decrease further”. She called for law schools to do more to warn students about the lean career prospects they might encounter.

State of the global legal services market

Last year (February 2013) the Law Society published a detailed study of the global legal services market. It forecast growth for large City firms, but highlighted pressure on high street law firms.

The survey stated that the UK legal services market is worth £26.8bn and employs up to 320,000 people in England and Wales. A key calculation was that the market contributes a net £3bn to the UK’s balance of trade.

In this context the health of the UK legal services sector is vital for wider economic growth, said Law Society chief executive Des Hudson. “Our study shows that law firms in London and elsewhere in England and Wales are winning an increasing share of a growing global market, bolstered by a strong international reputation and a highly qualified and professional workforce. With regulatory changes permitting increased external investment, some firms are well placed to win an even larger share of this growth.”

However, he said the study also reveals a tale of two cities. “In contrast to the granite and glass offices of the large law firms competing for business from around the world, traditional high street solicitors firms face a less rosy picture. Numbers of these firms have proved remarkably resilient over the last few years, even when their traditional sources of income – conveyancing residential property and representing legal aid-funded clients – have halved. The best local firms are fighting to win an increasing share of a smaller market, but not all can succeed in this way.”

Key statistics from the Law Society study:

•    In England and Wales, between 267,000 and 320,000 people work in legal services, in 30,000 firms or other entities.

•    Total turnover of these firms is approximately £25.6bn, or 1.48 per cent of GVA (2010 figures).

•    Solicitors account for 38-46 per cent of individuals, 44 per cent of entities and 58 per cent of total UK turnover (UK figures), but the role of non-Solicitors and non-Barristers is significant.

•    Total turnover is estimated to have fallen between 2011 and 2012 to £25.4bn (following an only marginal increase between 2010 and 2011) as the economy struggled through a double-dip recession. However, a return to modest growth is expected for UK legal services in 2013, rising slowly to £27.5bn in 2015.

•    Longer-term growth rates are predicted to exceed a healthy 4.2 per cent from 2015 onwards.

Future issues law firms must consider:

•    Increased competition from the biggest practices

•    The need for succession planning to cope with future changes

•    Changing behaviour of purchasers of legal services stimulated and facilitated by technology and broader demographic changes

•    Globalisation/global and national economic climates

•    Changes to civil litigation and legal aid funding

•    The regulatory environment

•    Technological and process innovation

This article was provided by Simply Law Jobs: