Law bucks industry trends as grad vacancies rise

Law bucks industry trends as grad vacancies riseThe Association of Graduate Recruiters (AGR) eagerly awaited winter survey predicts that graduate vacancies in the legal sector are set to rise by 2 per cent compared with plummeting figures across all other industries.

The winter survey, which was published on 11 February, predicts that investment banking will be the biggest casualty. It will see a massive 28 per cent fall in graduate openings this year compared to an overall drop of 5.4 per cent.

Andrew Bonsall, who is studying law at Leeds University, is concerned that the legal sector will be flooded with graduates who would have previously gone into other industries.

If I were looking for a training contract at the moment I would be pretty miffed because there is going to be more competition for places, he said.

But not everyone is upset about the predicted increase in applications. Allen & Overys graduate recruitment partner Richard Hough claimed the rise would widen the talent pool for firms in time for when the economy picks up.

It’s understandable that graduates are concerned by the current economic climate. However, businesses like ours need to recruit the best people, and so we will continue to look for high quality candidates. Graduate recruitment is a long-term investment, with a three to four-year lead time, and we need to ensure we have good people coming through when the markets pick up, said Hough.

Against this gloomy backdrop, recruiters surveyed by the AGR have warned this years cohort of graduates to research the employers and sectors they apply to more thoroughly than ever.

Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton graduate recruitment partner Andrew Shutter said: Its now, more than ever, incredibly important to research the firms youre applying to. You have to look at what firms did during the last recession because the firms that did make big job cuts back then will most probably make the most now.

The survey has also urged graduates not to automatically consider returning to university or taking a year out as the first alternative when the job search gets tough unless they believe it will add to their employability. Most said taking temporary paid work was preferable. But Shutter claimed that taking a job as a paralegal was counterproductive to students career aspirations and instead suggested they spend their time brushing up on skills that would help them in the future.

Taking a temporary job could look better on your CV than going back into academia. But going off to learn new languages or something like accountancy could be a good use of your time and could help you in your future career as a lawyer, argued Shutter.

For the first time in the AGR surveys history graduate salaries are
expected to be frozen by many employers. This years median starting salary
will remain stuck at 2008s figure of 25,000.

Last year law firms maintained the top spot with a median salary of 37,000
while investment banks remained static at 35,000. But 2009 is expected to
see some sectors slash pay with the banking industry expecting a median
salary decrease of up to 8.9 per cent.

Simon Pilcher, graduate recruitment partner at CMS Cameron McKenna, said: In the legal sector there have been quite considerable pay rises over the past few years so a freeze is something that you could expect.

As first reported on Monday (9 February) Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer is reversing its associate salary bands with all associates set to receive the same level of pay from May, despite gaining a year in post
qualification experience.

Many partners have claimed that because law firms recruit so far in advance it makes it impossible to crystal ball gaze in the legal sector.

But Pilcher expects that there will be a move to reduce vacancy numbers in the future. He said: I think US firms will start to reduce their numbers as well as some smaller firms.

Chief executive of the AGR Carl Gilleard has remained optimistic about the recession and its effect on graduate recruitment.

The situation is certainly not as severe as it could be. We saw a sharper decrease in 2003, for example, when recruiters had a negative reaction to the crash. By and large, while no one doubts the seriousness of the current economic downturn, the picture for graduate recruitment, though worrying, could be bleaker, said Gilleard.

To receive our free Lawyer News Daily news and comment email, click here. Or get the latest news, features and comment as it’s published with our free RSS feed.