It was a quiet start to the year in 2020 for in-house legal recruitment as law firms were offering cheaper fees with secondment opportunities competitive to the cost of hiring. This choice was favoured throughout the year, leaving recruitment quiet. Although we expect this model to change because of the hidden costs of instructing external solicitors. With the impacts of the virus arriving in Q2 the market froze, with a wake up call in the later part of Q3 and Q4 where we saw a hiring pick up in fintech and payments. This was down to start-ups receiving funding, where investors saw a "safety net" in place internally taking the form of a legal, risk, or compliance professional. This unfortunately did not turn into direct hires for legal professionals still leaving them to the wrath of external firms (as mentioned above), and an abundance of time wasting recruitment processes prevalent in the uncertain market of 2020. Looking Forward to 2021 We are not out of the woods with the pandemic (by any stretch) and we will still be feeling the strain of future uncertainty when making decisions on technical and expensive hires. Although most businesses are comfortable with offering positions under newfound working from home capabilities; in a lot of cases, businesses haven’t been making hires where there has been company demand (due to uncertainty). This has manifested as a strain on the successful growth of businesses and we are hoping this will be rectified through 2021. Brexit on the other hand has had a positive impact on the in-house legal market, as businesses have been putting their contingency plans in place (establishing themselves geographically within the EU). We have seen great opportunities for in-house counsel and this could continue through 2021. The potential growth and change of regulation that Brexit will bring could see an emergence of Brexit specialist lawyers, much like the GDPR in 2016.
In 2021 we expect the backlog of roles, put on hold during Coronavirus, to rear its head. "
This demand should grow over the coming months, and below we look at how this might manifest by industry sub sector and position: Financial Services - Like the market itself, benchmarking salaries and predicting areas of hiring is very tough to do. The following is based on regular candidate and client conversations and explores the main areas of practice applicable within a few core sub-sectors of the in-house legal and the financial services market.General Counsel, Fintech & Payments - the position of general counsel became exceedingly popular in 2010 and has continued to rise in popularity throughout subsequent years. Changes in regulations and business management styles have led to companies hiring in-house lawyers at very early stages of company growth. This is particularly true in the payment and fintech market, where we have seen notable growth over the past few years, where cost saving proves to be a choice when looking to hire in-house legal counsel at early stages rather than outsourcing legal work. With this in mind, it’s important to note that key commercial attributes are required for general counsels in the start-up and scale-up markets, another key skill is risk management. I predict this area to pick up in the coming months.Company Secretary, Financial Administration and Outsourcing businesses - the typical in-house company secretarial appointments have been in decline over the past few years, with fewer limited companies choosing to make this instruction and more businesses offering excellent ‘outsourced’ co-sec services. With this in mind, I’d predict that the businesses we predict continued growth for company secretarial positions in financial administration companies.Legal Counsel, General Commercial (low-mid PQE) - hiring at this level is often a favourite for heads of legal and general counsels across all of the in-house FS market. Taking the view that candidates who’ve had a great technical grounding at a top 10 firm will be able to directly transfer their skills to the commercially minded in-house teams. Though this strategy often works, it certainly has its pitfalls. Q1 2021 will see a push on hiring from private practice as technical skills become more desirable. Though the real battle starts when marking sure the incoming candidates have the commercial acumen needed to succeed in-house. Brexit Lawyers (Global) – as mentioned above, the impact of Brexit on the in-house legal FS market can certainly be seen as a positive, especially as more businesses start expanding their teams to include specialist lawyers within separate legal jurisdictions. We expect to see this impact take several years to fully establish around what the requirements will be. With this in mind, cross-border counsel and dual-qualified lawyers could be in higher demand through the year.Final wordsPositively, it’s going to be a good H1 for in-house lawyers, certainly in comparison to all of last year. In a nutshell, the pending market growth will be down to an uptake of confidence about hiring amidst the pandemic, meaning the recruitment market will be able to pick up on the roles put on pause through 2020. In light of a hopefully improved market, where will we be focusing our attention?In Q1&2 will be focusing on senior positions in the start-up/scale-up markets and the consumer-focused fintech market. We will also be focusing on low to mid-level PQE commercial lawyers looking to step out of the practice environment. Armed with this knowledge, we will continue to be reactive to the market as we proactively provide our recruitment and search services to our clients and candidates, and offer career advice to anyone looking to move roles or expand on their teams - find out more on our legal team here.
It was a quiet start to the year in 2020 for in-house legal recruitment, as law firms were offering cheaper fees, with secondment opportunities competitive to the cost of hiring.