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The skills shortage: the challenge of attracting legal candidates

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The legal industry is facing a huge skills shortage.

Here's what firms are doing to combat it...

The huge changes that the Legal industry is currently undergoing are having a profound effect on the numbers of available candidates in the marketplace. Though this year has seen strong market growth- indeed, it’s predicted to grow by 4% from 2017 levels - the candidate shortage is becoming a very pressing issue for firms trying to attract the next generation of talented young lawyers to their ranks.

The skills shortage is being touted as ‘the single biggest barrier to growth’ in many industries, and it’s starting to affect the legal sector, too: not just in traditional growth areas, but also in rapidly-developing sectors like cybercrime and post-Brexit law. Is it any wonder, then, that recruitment has become such a pressing issue within the industry?

For many law firms, not streamlining their recruitment processes could pose a serious issue to their success within the market, especially as 67% of law firms say that the skills shortage is threatening growth. We take a look at what needs to be done.

The candidate’s market

There’s no denying that legal recruitment today is a candidate’s game. Many magic circle law firms cut their client intakes after the 2008 crash, and while the market is now growing and healthy once more, there’s now a shortage of trainees with more than five years’ experience of working in areas like banking, corporate and property law.

This shortage also looks set to continue into the future as London law firms struggle to attract EU trainees with Brexit on the horizon. London is been a popular destination for trainees, but this may well change thanks to the complications surrounding EU and immigration laws- and considering that up to 20% of legal trainees in the City are EU citizens, this looks set to be a problem for many firms, especially those who are looking to expand internationally.

Alongside this, there’s also the problem of increased demand. Smaller firms are starting to struggle in a legal landscape where Mergers and Acquisitions have accelerated, merging huge organisations to create international ‘superfirms’, which are actively looking to hire senior partners and senior staff to manage their expansion plans. Combined with an increased demand for in-house and private practise lawyers, especially in growth areas like property, corporate and finance, and the result we’re seeing is a battle amongst legal firms to attract and retain the best candidates.

Recruitment Trends Survey 2023 | Have your say on salary, benefits, culture and more...

What does this mean?

Law firms are coming under increasing pressure to attract and retain the best candidates, but the current market situation doesn’t make this easy. A shortage of staff can lead to solicitors and other professionals becoming overworked, which in turn increases turnover. To combat this, counter-offers have also risen dramatically in popularity over the past few years, as legal firms have become increasingly keen to avoid the hiring process altogether (for more advice on how to handle these, take a look at our blog). However, this is not a sustainable way of doing businesses and firms are already looking at different methods of attracting their candidates.

In a nutshell, we’re expecting to see a lot of investment in HR and in employee benefits over the coming years. Many law firms are now investing more in their HR systems than ever before, in order to streamline their recruitment process and improve their candidate offering: in fact, 87% of law firms surveyed by Deloitte said that ‘investing in talent’ was now an important part of their recruitment strategy.

Recruitment processes have been streamlined, with a greater focus on candidate ‘buy in’, as HR teams seek to engage them with the company and with the job before another company can do the same. Many are also investing in their own graduate schemes and academies to capture the graduate market, in particular the 60% of law graduates who go into a non-law related job once leaving university.

What the candidate wants

Though having a strong recruitment process in place is vital to engage candidates, the key to retaining them in the long term should be a strong employee benefits scheme. Many organisations are starting to accept that employee benefits are a vital part of their talent attraction, and the packages they offer now are changing to keep up with modern trends. Though higher salaries are the norm at the moment as law firms seek to tempt candidates, the millennial generation now entering the workplace places a much higher emphasis on the importance of a good work-life balance than their forebears. As millennials will make up 35% of the global workforce by 2020, this is something that needs to be taken into account.

Accordingly, law firms are making an effort to bring this on board, introducing flexible working hours, office doctors, free healthcare insurance and training schemes to ensure their employees remain happy and engaged- and to keep up with this, expect to see the demand for Employee Benefits experts to rise too.

Solving the skills shortage

Preparing for the future isn’t just about attracting more candidates: it’s about ensuring that your employees are satisfied and engaged. Given the level of competition in the market, and the increased demand for talented candidates that we see in the future, law firms need to change their attitude towards recruitment- or suffer the skills shortage instead.

We can help. Find out more about our client solutions here, including Psychometric Testing and Retained Solutions- or get in touch with our team to kick-start your recruitment process.