Challenges in legal recruitment: why firms need to up their game

Challenges in legal recruitment: why firms need to up their game

How are law firms changing their approaches to recruitment with a chronic skills shortage in the market? James Batt, managing director of BCL Legal, explains why firms need to up their game to tackle the growing difficulties in recruiting and retaining talent.

What new approaches to recruitment are companies introducing to improve the ways in which they recruit? What is the driving force for these changes?

Recruitment is at the top of everyone’s agenda in a way it wasn’t a few years ago. It is the single biggest barrier to growth across all industries, not just the legal sector.

It is a candidate’s market right now. The market is very buoyant, but the big driving force in legal recruitment is a skills shortage. Between 2008 and 2012, most law firms cut their trainee intake. The level of transactions also fell at this time. This meant that fewer trainees qualified into non-contentious disciplines such as:

  • banking
  • corporate
  • property law

The upshot of this is that we now have a dearth of solicitors with two to five years’ post-qualified experience (PQE) in the job market which leaves teams out of balance. The problem is exacerbated by the fact there has been an increase in work.

What does all this mean for law firms? Are there any particular challenges law firms face with recruitment?

Because of the skills shortage in today’s candidate-led market, there is a huge issue with ‘buy-back’ from incumbent employers which means that the recruitment process has become very protracted. Once a candidate has accepted a job offer, it doesn't stop there. The candidate has a notice period to work out, during which they can be subjected to huge pressure from their outgoing employer to stay. We have seen some of our candidates offered incredible salary raises and promises of promotion and partnership to think again about moving on because the firm knows it will have real problems in backfilling the job.

The other problem with a staff shortage within firms is that many solicitors become overworked. This can result in lawyers burning out and looking for other opportunities elsewhere with a better work/life balance.

There is real pressure from both sides.

What innovative appro

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