What's in store for New Lawyers in 2023? - A Legal Recruiter's POV
So, we’ve reached 2023 and many of you will be qualifying between March and September. Some of you are likely worried about how the market looks and whether a space in your desired practice area will be available come qualification time.
This year isn’t massively different to most others. Yes, we are in a recession but recessions don't scare me and they shouldn’t scare you.
I started out in legal recruitment about four seconds before the market crashed in 2008. I watched law firms pivot into other practice areas and survive. And then thrive. The market changed considerably over the next four years between 2008 and 2012. Scottish firms became UK-wide via mergers. Redundancies did happen and less people qualified into law for a couple of years, but the market was only really shaken. Spectacularly yes, but not catastrophically. It shook, it contracted and then it righted itself. And all that on the back of one of the most landscape-shifting market crashes of all time.
The recession we are in now is different. It will be slow and likely lengthy, but it’s far from the problems we faced in 2008 and it definitely doesn’t mean that the career you want is suddenly in jeopardy. What it does mean is being realistic about the salary levels you can achieve, in the practice area you most wish to work in.
2021 and 2022 were aberrations. Massively soaring salaries and all the power sitting with the candidate is something I have never seen in recruitment before. It was an unprecedented market, with a rapid influx of work and a severe lack of talent coming through at the necessary times. Please don’t think that the stories you heard from last year’s qualifiers is the story you are now living. It’s a different world. Don’t compare what you achieve as a starting salary in 2023 to what someone you know did in 2022. That road leads to madness.
2023 will look entirely different. The signs are already there that recruitment for NQ’s will normalise over the course of the next six months.
Firms are now offering far more normalised salaries across the board. Whether you’re at newly qualified level or even Partner level, offers are looking more like a 10% at best bump, rather than some of the crazy leaps we saw last year, so please do bear that in mind when considering offers. Don’t think that a £65k offer, regardless of your practice area, is achievable. It might be on rare occasions, but that won’t be the norm for 2023.
Work hasn’t dried up. The market is still incredibly buoyant, but work isn’t flooding in at the obscene rate it was 12 months back and firms will cut their cloth accordingly.
So my advice will look massively similar to most years.
Don’t panic early. Most NQ’s will secure roles between late April and early June. Throwing your CV out into the ether in February (unless you qualify earlier than September) is usually counterproductive. Be patient.
Be certain which practice area you want and pursue that. It’s far better to have the practice area you want, in a firm that you’ve compromised on slightly than a practice area you have no interest in. It’s harder to unpick that mistake.
Don’t panic if response is slow and start applying for multiple other practice areas, things move slowly sometimes. So avoid the perception that you’re desperate or unsure about your desired practice area.
If using an agent, pick the one that’s right for you and stick with that. By and large, we all have the same clients. Maybe I shouldn’t say that, but it’s true.
Go into your interviews with a clear goal. Be bold enough to tell your interviewer what you want from the next few years of your career. This is one of the most important moves you will make, so don’t be passive during an NQ interview. It’s your career and you should get what you want from it.
Don’t try and leverage offers. People could get away with that last year, it won’t be looked upon in the same way this year.
Be clear with firms that offers come in from if you are still interviewing elsewhere. Given them a candid idea of when you could likely accept or decline by and stick to that. And stop interviewing if you have accepted a role. The market has a long memory.
I’d also say that it’s time to start talking to your contemporaries at other firms. The pandemic has made many law firms, and companies in general to be honest, incredibly insular. You don’t have the same view of the outside world that the NQ’s of 2019 did. Use LinkedIn, or pick up the phone to people you went to University with to see what their experience has been like over the last two years. It will be invaluable in helping you decide which is the right firm for you. As an agent, I can give you a steer on which firm is right for you based on your wants and needs, but I haven’t lived that experience. Your contemporaries have. It’s very easy to have too many preconceptions about the other firms in the market. Being on the other side of a file can give you some insight, but only really of one person in that organisation, not the organisation as a whole. Also remember that one bad story you heard three years ago is just that, one bad story. Do your due diligence properly and be open to having your mind changed.
I’ll close this out with some interview advice. Please don’t get to the end of your interview and when you're asked if you have any questions use the dreaded "I did but I think you have covered everything". I do a lot of interviews these days as our company expands. The candidates I’m most impressed by are the ones that show a genuine interest in us. I love talking about our company and what our long term plans are as well as talking about what we have accomplished here over the last ten years. Partners at my clients are exactly the same. Asking them why they continue to work at their current firm lets them talk about something personal to them whilst simultaneously proving that you actually engaged in the interview. They’ll remember you for it, I promise you.
All the best with your search in 2023. The role you want is out there for you, at the right firm, just waiting for you.
By Neil Campbell
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