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My next move: How challenging is the current legal job market?

My next move: How challenging is the current legal job market?

Speak to the vast majority of legal recruiters with more than 10 years’ experience and they will give you the same message: it hasn’t been this bad for almost 20 years.

Speak to the vast majority of legal recruiters with more than 10 years’ experience and they will give you the same message: it hasn’t been this bad for almost 20 years.

In comparison to the dot-com fuelled dip in 2002-03 and the post GFC crash of 2008-09, the length and depth of the current depressed job market for lawyers is significant.

This is being felt acutely in the private practice market.

Over the last 12 months, the top-tier firms have ceased almost all recruitment. Of course there is selective hiring in this group, but in relative terms opportunities to join these traditional powerhouses are almost non-existent.

Mid-tier and boutique practices have recruited opportunistically but this trend has also slowed over the last three to six months. The unusually high levels of partner movement, international mergers and new firm entrants have also added to the uncertain sentiment. This pattern is trending on a national basis.

So, where do opportunities exist? The in-house market is quieter than in previous years but companies are still recruiting at a steady rate. There have been relatively few redundancies over the last six months from in-house legal teams. On the flip side, each and every in-house role is fiercely contested and keenly sought after.

The growth in regulatory work also presents opportunities for lawyers, particularly in financial services. Many lawyers have turned away from traditional transactional work to concentrate on regulatory and compliance advice work e.g. FOFA, Dodd Frank. With an increasingly demanding regulatory environment, we expect this trend to continue.

The traditional offshore locations for Australian lawyers don’t necessarily offer any safe haven either. London, New York, Hong Kong and Singapore are still yet to emerge fully from their own depressed conditions. The Middle East, however, offers more opportunities, with Dubai, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, for example, still locations where Australian lawyers are in demand.

Some general thoughts:

  • It is unwise to resign without first securing another role. Our clients will typically require a sound reason for this decision
  • Don’t discount the contract or temporary options. Some law firms and many companies recruit lawyers on long-term contracts. On the whole, a stint on contract won’t detract from your chances of securing a permanent role
  • Be realistic. It is a competitive job market and don’t necessarily expect a premium hike in salary package to move jobs. More than ever, our clients seek value for money and you will be offered what they see as market rate for the specific skills you bring.

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