emerging trends which are creating opportunities for future lawyers
from the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) has shown signs of recovery in the UK
legal market, with 60% of the law firms surveyed expecting to increase their
revenues over the year ahead and half predicting an upturn in chargeable hours.
This is good news for future lawyers, who are likely to find demand for their
services rising in the years ahead. Indeed, if previous recoveries are anything
to go by, there could well be a shortage of law graduates to fill trainee and
junior associate positions as transaction volumes return to pre-crisis norms.
But students beginning their careers would also do well to consider how the
legal market has changed since the Great Recession. This change will, to a
significant extent, define how it grows in the years ahead.
The push for
The relative quietness of the last few years has given law
firms an opportunity to reflect on their values. One of the things that has
emerged from this period of introspection is a determination to cast off their
(not always deserved) reputations as bastions of elitism. What has followed has
been a raft of initiatives designed to broaden the profile of future
by the 'CV Blind' scheme that is being pioneered by Clifford Chance, and
has since been adopted by Macfarlanes and will shortly be rolled out by Mayer
Brown. Underlining his firm's commitment to action, Mayer Brown Partner Dominic
Griffiths said: ‘I think that we run a big risk of ending up with just middle
class white males from Oxbridge – there's nothing wrong with Oxbridge
whatsoever, by the way – but I think it's really incumbent on us to make sure
we throw out the net much further and really appreciate people's innate talents.’
Other notable diversity projects designed to recruit from a
broader pool of universities and social backgrounds include the video
interviews introduced by DWF - which have enabled the firm to increase the
number of applicants it interviews for training contracts from 220 to 400 -and
the Aspiring Solicitors diversity network launched by former Norton Rose
Fulbright associate Chris White.
While driven to a large extent by law firms' newfound
commitment to better reflect society – a proposition that has sound business as
well as ethical foundations – the push for diversity is also related to the
2012 trebling in undergraduate fees. In such an environment, if the legal
profession isn't pro-active in opening up to students from non-traditional
backgrounds, law firm leaders have calculated that it could come to resemble
something rather detached from society. Accordingly, never has there been a
better time to enter the higher echelons of law via institutions outside the
traditional Russell Group and Oxbridge bracket.
New routes into the
Legal apprenticeships have been the big
legal education news story of the year, as top firms including Kennedys,
Eversheds and DAC Beachcroft have embraced the new school-leaver route into the
law. Expect more to follow as, again partly motivated by diversity, they
provide more options to potential recruits who may wish to bypass university.
The University of Law has welcomed a role in developing the legal
apprenticeships as part of the Government’s Trailblazer apprenticeship scheme.
It is also worth looking out for a new graduate path to
qualification that has been launched by the Chartered Institute of Legal
Executives (CILEx), the organisation which accredits legal apprentices. The
CILEx graduate fast-track diploma allows anyone with a law degree or Graduate
Diploma in Law (GDL) to qualify as a chartered legal executive lawyer by
completing three years of on-the-job study while they work as paralegal.
However, if they want to subsequently qualify as a solicitor they must complete
the Legal Practice Course (LPC) at a later stage.
Recent years have seen a host of City law firms open up
support offices outside London. For example, last year Ashurst launched a new
legal and business support services office in Glasgow, with Allen & Overy
opening up in Belfast in 2011. Meanwhile, Hogan Lovells is set to open a
low-cost legal centre in Birmingham later this year. While these offices focus
on lower value ’volume‘ work, they all employ solicitors and, as the economy
grows, could provide a good launch-pad for future lawyers who don't manage to
bag plum London jobs. When asked if ambitious lawyers in the firm's Glasgow
office will enjoy the same opportunities as their City-based equivalents,
Ashurst Partner David Carter told FLN:
’Yes. If they are good enough, they are good enough.’
Pinsent Masons, a firm with a much longer track record of
regional offices, provides an example of how firms with these low cost legal
offices could, over time, develop. As Pinsents Graduate Recruitment Chief
Edward Walker explains, all offices have equal status. ‘The firm recruits the
same way for trainees in every office. It shouldn't be difficult to move within
the firm, with examples of lawyers who have begun training in Leeds, gone on to
work in Birmingham, before qualifying into the same team in London, and others
who have done it the other way around.’ Walker detects a growing ‘buzz’ in the
north at the moment, with the lot of a junior lawyer in cities like Leeds –
where Walker is based – made especially desirable by the much lower cost of
living and better-value house prices.
The University of Law's outgoing President, Nigel Savage,
echoes Walker's words, advising future lawyers ‘not to be obsessed about
working for a global firm’.
Speaking at Legal Cheek's 'If
I knew then what I know now' event at Inner Temple, Savage suggested that
the innovation being driven by the de-regulatory provisions of the Legal
Services Act (LSA) is creating ‘some fantastic new legal businesses,
particularly in the north, run by young people who actually understand how to
run a business – not for maintaining profit per partner next year, but to build
Beyond that, Savage suggested that developments in energy
policy could have a profound effect on law over the years ahead.‘The
solicitors' profession grew out of the boom in the railway industry in
Victorian times: real estate, land disputes...they acted for the landed gentry
when they were putting railway lines down. Now you see the beginnings of this
process in US litigation relating to energy,’ he said. ‘Fracking is going to
cover all sorts of disputes in terms of land ownership, rights and settlement
problems. It'll be a boom time...I am being quite serious, it will be a
goldmine for lawyers.’
However the recovery develops, the years ahead could prove
an exciting time for future lawyers.