IT IS set to be another tight year for law firms requiring lawyers in the banking and finance, corporate and commercial, energy and resources and property areas. But, recruiters say, firms are becoming more open to considering a broader range of candidates, and in some cases are even retraining them.
“Firms are really prepared to look outside the box, especially if there is something compelling about a person such as they have done a thesis on an area of law that is of interest to one of their clients,” Elvira Naiman, director of Naiman Clarke, said.
The firms were looking deeper into candidates’ resumés to find things other than top-tier experience and first class academics “because those sorts of candidates aren’t around”. Naiman said it was rare to see top tier candidates below partner level for anything other than overseas or in-house positions.
“They are very rarely these days top tier hopping,” she said. “It’s certainly happening at the senior partner level, but the more junior level top-tier lawyers are going overseas. Top-tier firms are having a hard time recruiting from the other top tiers.”
This has made lawyers in the mid-tier hotter property than in the past, and Naiman says many who have found themselves in that more favoured position are being very selective about the positions they will consider. Unfortunately for Australia’s law firms, many of those candidates are also keen to get overseas experience, or try their hand in-house.
Nick Shaw, a recruitment consultant at Hudson, said the result was that firms were starting to look more at the candidates’ actual experience and work they had done rather than just going on the name of the firm they had worked for. “They are also looking at people who might have started working in the public sector or who have worked at one of the regulators,” he said.
“Firms are starting to become more amenable to looking at people with those kinds of backgrounds, which is obviously broadening their net a bit from what they would have looked at before.”
Amanda Bear, director of Dolman Legal Recruitment, said the shortage of lawyers in the key areas was evident on a global level. “Local markets are struggling to attract candidates because of the explosion on the international side, particularly at the junior to mid-level. We are even placing newly qualified lawyers overseas, which is unheard of,” she said.
The problem of this trend is two-fold, Dolman said, because if those lawyers stay away from Australia “too long”. Senior associates who had been out of the market for some time, but come to the realisation that they would not make partner where they were practising, were rarely able to just “waltz back into” the Australian market.
She said the demand for finance lawyers was so extreme that lawyers were “reinventing themselves”, and she had placed several Australian tax lawyers into a London firm, where they would practise in finance.
Naiman said she had not seen such openness to training lawyers in her 10 years as a recruiter. Firms are accepting that the talent shortage might not ease off in the near future. “They need to ensure they have people on board to take the firm into the future and to the next level. It is more a long term mindset.”