It’s no secret that the legal recruitment market in Dublin is extremely buoyant at the moment. You only have to look at the healthy listings of live roles on the job boards to see that organisations are hiring for legal talent at all levels within private practice, industry and financial services. Legal professionals are securing attractive salaries across all sectors as firms and companies seek to attract the best talent to their organisations. We’re seeing consistent growth in the legal sector each quarter, with a spread of roles across private practice and in-house.
Within the mid-top tier law firms there’s a big push to secure high calibre candidates with funds, transactional banking, corporate and commercial property law experience. 3-5 years’ PQE is the most sought after level, but of course more senior candidates (Partners) with a potential following will always be invited for an exploratory meeting to see if there’s any synergy. Lateral hires have made a big comeback in the past 24 months, with a steady flow of solicitors moving across the Dublin law firms.
The rule of thumb with the large firms is that they are interested in candidates with similar law firm experience. High in demand are those from other large firms but especially candidates who have gained experience in overseas markets. International experience adds a different dimension to a CV.
Many of the medium sized law firms in Dublin have appointed additional Partners, either hiring latterly, or making internal appointments. Keen to bulk up their offerings across corporate/banking/property, it’s fair to say this has been an active area within the legal recruitment market. Why are Partners moving? Some have recognised that waiting for equity in a large firm may mean an indefinite wait. Taking the plunge and moving to a slightly smaller firm seems like a wise choice if it means reaping the benefits of equity in a shorter time period.
Regardless of firm size there has been a notable increase in demand for commercial property solicitors, from newly qualified to Partner level – this goes hand-in-hand with the surge in activity in the local commercial property market. Construction lawyers are back in demand also, with some of our recent placements in this area being a direct result of candidates returning from overseas with quality construction law experience.
Small firms are firmly focussed on the conveyancing market; residential and commercial. Many ‘urban’ general practice firms have recruited commercial and private client solicitors this year, indicating more confidence in this part of the market.
In terms of in-house roles, candidates with experience of funds, banking and aviation leasing law have had a lot of choice of late. Many fund administrators and asset managers have hired at Senior Counsel level, while the banks have followed suit bulking up their teams of senior lawyers on the corporate and commercial side of the business.
According to the IDA, ‘about half of world’s commercial aircraft fleet is managed from Ireland’, so it’s no surprise that aviation leasing companies in Dublin (a true leasing hub) are at full throttle on the recruitment front. The need for specialists in this area continued right through the recession, so this is not really a reflection of the upturn. This is an attractive industry given greater than average remuneration packages, but the reality is, the lessors are very particular when it comes to hiring lawyers with specific aviation leasing experience – so breaking into this sector can be difficult.
In the technology and pharma sectors, the requirement tends to be for lawyers with especially strong commercial contracts experience (software licensing, NDAs, complex procurement agreements etc.). Start-up/new entrants to the Irish market often hire at the 6-10 years’ PQE and then build the team out from there. This year has seen the appointment of new General Counsel to some of the larger technology, online gambling, social media and pharmaceutical companies.
Typically we find our clients will hold out for candidates with a specific industry background. This can be frustrating for candidates who are keen to change industry (from banking to technology, for example) but most companies don’t seem to have the time or resources to get someone up to speed in a new sector (despite the willingness of the candidate). The focus for these roles is always to find people who can ‘hit the ground running’. In terms of PQE, we’ve found that the requirement for in-house roles tends to be at the 6-8 year+ PQE; those who are ready to make a move from a law firm, or have previous in-house experience. For Assistant/Junior Counsel roles the PQE requirement is typically 2-4 years. General Counsel candidates are expected to have 10-15 years+ PQE.
The company secretarial market is at its most buoyant right now, with the law firms and funds companies keen to source candidates who have managed portfolios of funds clients. Some of the fund administrators are adding this function to their offering since many of their competitors have done likewise. Candidates seeking company secretarial roles in PLCs (and there are many) tend to have less of a choice since these opportunities are a rarity unfortunately. As with the solicitor market, there’s a dearth of candidates available for mid-level company secretarial roles.
Salaries have improved in the Dublin market over the past 24 months. The law firms are keen to hold onto their talent, so many have reviewed their salary structures. When making a move you can expect a 10%-20% salary increase – but this completely depends on the client and your skillset. Standard benefits include healthcare, pension & bonus. Multinationals always offer the best benefits. In-house roles are attractive from a work-life balance point of view and the salaries are not that far off the law firms (unless you’re an equity Partner of course!).
If you’re considering making a move here are a few things to keep in mind:
- Recruitment processes can be very slow and protracted, so it’s best to manage your expectations around this. You’ll need lots of patience!
- It can take 6-18 months to find the right role, so don’t delay your search if you’re keen to move.
- Try to stick to the sector where you’ve gained experience. Our clients are very particular about sourcing talent from the same sector (or firm size) to their own. Many will not look beyond this which keeps the search narrow and tight. It’s not impossible to change sector, but it is more difficult.
- Good candidates will get counter offered in this market (it’s more cost efficient for your company!), so if you’re going through the motions of a recruitment process just to get a salary increase, perhaps ask for a review first to save a lot of time and effort.
The majority of lawyers we place are qualified solicitors with strong academics and experience from a reputable law firm. When it comes to in-house roles, candidates with previous in-house and sectoral experience will have an edge – exceptions being funds, banking and aviation leasing solicitors making a move from large firms. The law firms are in full hiring mode with a definitive requirement for commercial property, corporate, banking (transactional) and funds lawyers. Company secretarial professionals are in high demand, especially at mid-level. We’re predicting (hoping!) that the legal recruitment market will continue to keep us on our toes, and be as buoyant in 2016.
Thanks for taking the time to read this article.
Sarah Kelly is a Partner at The Panel Search & Selection and heads up the Legal Recruitment division. Sarah has been recruiting legal professionals for over ten years, both in Ireland and overseas. The Panel partners with a range of clients across financial services, industry and private practice law firms.
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