The opportunity for lawyers in the banking market has contracted with the economic downturn, but recruitment for replacement or contract in-house roles still exist, writes Sarah Street
Initially we were seeing junior lawyers laid off, now, increasingly senior lawyers are in the firing line as budgets continue to tighten. This increase in the number of candidates creates much higher competition for the fewer roles that are available, the ranks being swelled by lawyers returning from overseas and lawyers who have taken up business roles who are now attempting to re-enter the legal market.
This uncertainty in the market in the shorter term is creating a level of concern among those still employed who feel they may be in the next round of redundancies and for those who are in a new role fearing the practice of "last in first out". For this reason, of the few banks who are quietly hiring strategically, some are providing 12-month redundancy guarantees.
On the other hand, some lawyers we are seeing welcome the opportunity to take redundancy because it gives them paid "time out" to decide on their future, before seeking more stable long -term roles, albeit conveniently at a time when the big banks and law firms are largely in "recruitment freeze" mode.
There are, however, glimmers of opportunism in this market with non-top-tier clients cherrypicking top grade lawyers in the banking and M&A space who would not otherwise be available. This is in addition to reported increases in M&A activity, which bodes well for that area in the future.
It is ironic that, as our banking clients are trying to budget, reducing the numbers in their internal legal teams, this is creating an increase in their external legal spend. The current in-house mantra is "work harder with fewer" which means the lawyers left in the recently pared-down legal teams are often multi-tasking, doing the jobs of as many as three people across their own area and having to cover for other areas.
- Sarah Street is director of legal at Carmichael Fisher