14 May Be Flexible & Forward-Thinking: Observations on the Legal Recruitment Industry During COVID-19
Lawyers Weekly recently published a series of thought-provoking articles about the current state of the legal recruitment industry. While the publication is based in Australia, its insights apply equally to the New Zealand market, and are particularly relevant given the proposed Trans-Tasman Bubble that may open up between New Zealand and Australia.
The series is in three parts:
- Part One: “Firms that ‘cull hard and pause recruitment’ may struggle to find talent post-pandemic”;
- Part Two: “Uncertainty to feature heavily in legal recruitment following COVID-19”; and
- Part Three: “Advice from recruiters about weathering the COVID-19 storm”.
I encourage you to take a look at these articles, and I wanted to pass on some of my observations from them. Two concepts kept coming to mind as I read: the importance of flexibility and forward thinking.
With the rapid pace of change we are all presently experiencing, flexibility is needed from both legal employers and employees.
Employers have had to rapidly transition to remote working, as well as remote hiring and onboarding if they are still recruiting. Accommodating flexible work arrangements is no longer just a “nice-to-have” perk, but a necessity. Companies are taking steps to protect their business through reducing wages, minimising executive or partner compensation, and cutting excessive overheads. Hiring is reduced to critical roles for the foreseeable future. Companies who are not flexible, understanding, and caring towards their employees will suffer when there is a recovery – if employees don’t feel like their employer cares about them, they won’t forget this, and will look to move elsewhere when they are able to. Employers who take a genuine interest in their employees’ health and mental well-being will be rewarded with greater engagement and loyalty from their employees.
If you are an employee, you may be asked to work on matters that are outside your practice area, with needs changing daily. If you have been asked to take a wage cut or work reduced or longer hours, be flexible. Unless you have another job to go to, your current one may be your best bet right now, and some income is better than no income. Focus on being as useful and productive as possible – your employer will remember who went the extra mile and who didn’t during this crisis. If you are a new hire, you will have to be patient, with start dates pushed back and remote training.
Both legal employers and employees should think about what practice areas will be most in demand going forward, and allocate their resources and energy accordingly. In previous economic downturns, the practice areas that ramped up the most were employment, litigation, construction, insolvency, bankruptcy, and restructuring.
Looking forward to the recovery, firms that cut their employee numbers and halt recruitment now will have a hard time meeting demand once the economy re-opens, so any decisions about downsizing will need to be made carefully. There might be more talent in the market as some lawyers return home from overseas and others put their overseas plans on hold for now. With social distancing requirements likely to be in place for quite some time, office layouts will have to change, and employers may have to continue remote working for some or all or their staff.
If you are an employee and you are still working, think about whether you want to be working for your current employer in five years. If the answer is no, take some time to plan a move when the recovery comes. If you don’t have much work at the moment, and you want to diversify your practice area or skill base, put your hand up to help in the areas where your employer is still busy.
For those who are working reduced hours or have been made redundant, use this time to upskill and spend some time thinking about your career path. Take a look at what jobs are still being advertised in your region; if anyone is recruiting right now, it will be for a “must-have” skillset that you could consider developing. Think also about the type of employer you want to work for. Right now, in-house roles may be more secure than roles at firms, as corporations keep more of their legal work in house. Within the in-house legal sector, publicly listed companies are feeling the pinch more than private companies, since they are influenced more by market volatility. Looking at law firms, boutique firms offer opportunities to pivot to new practice areas because their lawyers typically have broader practice areas, while big firms may have deeper pockets, better training programmes, and well-insulated reputations.
No matter what position you find yourself in right now, a flexible and forward-thinking attitude will be a huge asset. If you are a law firm or company wanting to be proactive about your legal staffing needs, get in touch with me today for a no-obligation discussion. If you are a lawyer who is considering a career move now or at some stage in the future, I am happy to have a confidential discussion with you. Contact me anytime at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In closing, many thanks to Lawyers Weekly for sharing these market insights!