Legal recruitment set to fire-up in 2014

by Mackenzie McCarty05 Feb 2014
Legal recruitment appears set for an upswing in 2014, with key recruitment firms saying they’re already seeing particular sectors heating up – but one worrying pre-GFC trend appears to be making a comeback.

HAYS senior manager, corporate divisions, Aurelie Le Gall, says mid-size firms are especially keen to take on additional staff this year.

“With medium-size firms, we’ve really seen a significant increase in activity over the last six months and that’s really accelerated, particularly in the last three. The outlook for 2014 is very, very strong, particularly within the medium-size law firms.”

She notes that top tier firms also appear to be recruiting at higher levels than this time last year – but ‘only just’, while in-house recruitment remains relatively static.

“Activity in [in-house recruitment] has been pretty steady, to be honest. There has been some candidate movement, particularly around the Wellington region and in Auckland, in particular with some insurance and telco companies.”

Legal Personnel director, Judith Eller and recruitment consultant, Lee Scott, say their experience so far this year has been similar.

“I think, overall, there’s going to be a willingness to recruit [in 2014]. But we’re not talking about a 2008 sort of market at all. Law firms are busier, they have areas where they want to recruit and build, but it’s still very selective recruitment,” said Eller.

Both HAYS and Legal Personnel note that in-house positions are growing more competitive, with a greater number of lawyers seeking to work in corporate or government positions, rather than in the private practice space.

Furthermore, the two companies have also noted a marked difference in recruitment activity in various sectors of the legal industry, with corporate, commercial and property law rapidly heating-up.

“We’re definitely [seeing a recruitment push] in the corporate side - and in the property side as well, which had been reasonably quiet but has picked-up dramatically over the past six months,” said Le Gall. “So any candidates with a strong property background, or construction, resource and environmental...seem to be in high demand. The New Zealand market in general has certainly picked up. A lot of the work is being driven by what’s happening in Christchurch and the impending rebuild has certainly driven a lot of demand in that space. What we’ve seen as well is increased international movement.”

In fact, Le Gall says her company has started to see a marked reversion to a somewhat troubling pre-GFC trend, with many legal professionals once more moving overseas – usually to the United Kingdom – after working in the New Zealand market for two to five years.

“As the UK market has picked-up, a number of individuals are actually leaving New Zealand and that’s creating a number of gaps in the local market - so some of these roles are truly just replacement roles, because the international market has become a lot more attractive than it was for a number of years,” said Le Gall, who adds that HAYS have even seen a large number of individuals securing positions before they step foot in the UK.

Hong Kong, Singapore and the Middle East – Dubai in particular - are also claiming some of New Zealand’s legal talent, but the UK continues to take the lion’s share – around 80% of expatriate lawyers, estimates Le Gall.

Back on the home front, Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment data shows the number of lawyers employed in New Zealand grew slightly from June, 2012 (12,460 lawyers employed nationally) to June, 2013 (12,580) and is expected to keep rising in 2014.

The Ministry predicts legal employment to grow by an average of 1.6% per year until 2016.

Lawyers' Employment: Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment

Current                                                                   Projected Growth
June 2012 June 2013 2011-16 2016-21
12,460 12,580 (up 0.9%) 1.6% per year 1.1% per year