With the graduate market contracting and legal teams continually needing to do more with less, short-term contracting is shaping up as the best way forward for parties at both ends of the spectrum.
In-house corporate teams are operating in an increasingly lean and competitive environment, FinLaw director Fiona Dernikovic told Lawyers Weekly, and are “frequently using interim resources to uplift resources for urgent legal projects, backfill roles or to reduce FTE numbers”.
“[Headcount] restrictions often preclude new hires and so contracting junior legal resources is often a great way to achieve more flexible outcomes. Additionally, corporates will be increasingly looking for value in their consumption of legal services and top-quality paralegals and graduates can add enormous value in terms of output versus cost base. This is particularly so in the financial services industry in the [post-Hayne royal commission] environment,” she outlined.
“At the same time, an increasing number of intelligent, highly motivated junior lawyers and paralegals are available in the market due to increased numbers of law school graduates, as well as widespread law firm redundancies, recruitment freezes and contraction. It’s a tougher market than ever for law graduates.”
In response to this, the team behind FinLaw is launching a new resourcing service, ParaLaw, which will place paralegals and graduate lawyers in corporate entities for interim placements. FinLaw, a legal locum business dedicated to assisting banks and financial services organisations in a post-Hayne royal commission world opened its doors in February of this year.
The graduate legal market has contracted significantly as a result of the global pandemic, Ms Dernikovic mused, and “realistically, great candidates are going to miss out on roles as a result and that will be disheartening after years of hard work”.
“However, the current market provides an opportunity for students and young lawyers to test out an in-house position early in their legal career and/or gain really valuable experience that will definitively give them advantages should they want to go down the path of a law firm career,” she proclaimed.
Exploring such opportunities will not, Ms Dernikovic stressed, come at the expense of other vocational pathways, should emerging lawyers want to trod those paths. Should those coming through the ranks garner corporate experience, they will have doors opening up across sectors.
“I have worked in both private practice at an international law firm and in corporate in-house roles. Both have their advantages, but it was the in-house roles which, without doubt, took my understanding of the critical commercial drivers underlying a legal transaction to another level,” she reflected.
“Working one-on-one with the relevant business team in an in-house role provides invaluable insight into the commercial pressures they are facing, the budgets they need to meet, the relationships that they need to maintain and the significant independence that an in-house counsel must bring to a corporate solution. This frequently brings into focus the key legal issues that require resolution.”
What those emerging practitioners must also remember, Ms Dernokovic added, is that the Hayne royal commission gave ruse to a new area of legal practice: regulatory law.
What may not be apparent to everyone is the emergence of a new area of legal practice during, and especially post, the 2018 financial services royal commission. That is the area of regulatory lawyers.
“This phenomenon has not been impacted by COVID-19 as regulatory actions by regulators have, if anything, unabashedly increased. It is true that COVID-19 has, in some cases, resulted in certain legal projects and regulatory work being placed on hold, potentially increasing future regulatory risk,” she explained.
“But this is, in our view, a temporary impact and we anticipate significant interim resourcing uplift being required in the latter half of 2020 as a result, particularly in the banks, superannuation funds and financial services organisations more broadly.
“One possibility is that law students could take advantage of a more fluid market by exploring contract roles until economic conditions improve and permanent employment opportunities stabilise and increase as we expect.”