Recruiters have emphasised the mismatch between the number of newly qualified (NQ) roles on the market and the number of ex-trainees looking for work.
Pure Search consultant Regina Chan said that despite the lack of positions available, the number of NQs searching for work remains exceptionally high.
“On the whole, we have a couple of NQ positions in private practice but we’re constantly flooded by CVs from NQs looking for work,” she said. “It doesn’t seem like it’s too good on the retention front at the moment.”
Laurence Simons director of private practice Guy Adams agreed. He said: “The NQ stakes are very, very difficult. Given that the majority of firms are not even keeping on all of their own NQs, it’s quite unlikely and quite rare for them to be taking on NQs. So there are some NQ positions out there but they tend to be few and far between.”
Chan highlighted that real estate is currently a relatively buoyant area, with firms searching for NQs to fill positions. She continued: “Litigation, particularly financial services litigation, is looking relatively good. There are quite a few competition roles and, of course, there is always M&A and capital finance.”
James Brewster, director of BCL Legal, recruits personal injury lawyers. He said: “Post-recession, firms haven’t had enough trainees coming through and last year, we saw NQ roles as a result. This year, there already are NQ roles. Though not all firms are doing well like that.”
Oliver Cook, energy and commodities consultant at Pure Search, explained that many firms are keen to retain trainees even if they will not be fully utilised.
He said: “I think more law firms are concerned about attrition rates nowadays so they’re doing whatever they can to keep as many trainees as possible, even if it means keeping on associates who are not particularly busy. They’d rather keep them on and pay them than have a terrible statistic in the legal press.
“In terms of NQ hiring, because of the fact that most law firms have tried to keep on as many NQs as possible that has brought down hiring somewhat.”
Adams emphasised that parts of the market are much healthier. He said: “Two to four years post-qualification is always referred to as the golden band that everyone is always looking for, to some extent even during the recession there were still good people in that area.
“Athough there are not a huge amount of vacancies in the market there is quite a lack of experienced three, four and five year qualified good quality lawyers. So it’s actually quite a good market for those people who’ve had good training, particularly if they’ve had a job continuously.”
He explained the rationale behind this lack: “A lot of law firms are now missing that three, four and five year qualified associate because they got rid of a lot during the recession and stopped taking on trainees and NQs so it’s kind of a lost generation.”
He added that the picture for NQs was that of a slow recovery with firms looking to replenish staff numbers. He said: “There are a lot more roles than there were two or three years ago, most of them are replacement hires. Either in terms of people moving on but also getting numbers back up to what they were before the recession. Most firms which are hiring are hiring one or two associates even in key areas and are being, as you would expect, pretty picky.”
Chan concurred: “The two to four year PQE level is the sweet spot at the moment, all of our clients seem to be looking for people at that level. I would presume it is because when the crisis hit two or four years ago quite a few NQs were not kept on and there is a shortage now. People at that level are quite well looked after by their current firms.”
Last week, Watson Farley Williams insisted that it will continue to take on trainees despite offering its September 2013 cohort £5,000 to defer (5 April 2013).