James Brewster James Brewster, Market Insight
As we all know, we are in the midst of a very difficult time. Everyone I know in my professional network and myself included, has been effected and are having to work extremely hard and make personal and financial sacrifices to make sure we have the best chance to come through this in relatively good shape. This is a relatively small price to pay compared to a lot of families that have lost loved ones and of course the 100s of health workers that have given so much to help fight Covid-19, some having sadly paid the ultimate price.
What has been very evident is how under prepared a lot of employers were to deal with a crisis like this and how little cash some had available for their employees if it was needed. Businesses you would have assumed had money in the bank clearly didn’t (why not if they have had a successful few years? What’s it been spent on?). Poorly treated employees should be demanding a lot more accountability and transparency from senior management when this is all over. Other employers who have sought to circumvent requests from employees for remote working in the past, quickly found out that if the shop door was closed with less than 24 hours’ notice, they couldn’t function.
I’m very fortunate and very grateful that I work for a business that has liquidity and has made sure that keeping its best talent employed is its number one focus. At the SR Group, we also have a brilliant IT support team that were able to move extremely quickly to ensure that every employee was able to work remotely at the drop of a hat (although many of the staff here work from home quite often so it was BAU for a lot us). The level and content of communication from our senior management team over the last 4-6 weeks has also been first-class.
So what have our law firm clients and candidates been asking us? Here are some of the most popular Q&As:
Q. When do you think the legal jobs market will pick up?
A. The general consensus is that we should start to see more vacancies in Q3 and by Q4 we should see this continue to increase. But a lot will depend on when and how we start to exit lockdown. Q2 is going to be the most challenging quarter.
Q. What have other firms been doing to cope? Redundancies? Furloughing staff? Wage cuts?
A. Most firms have adopted a combination of both with the majority opting to furlough rather than make staff redundant. Firms that don’t have the cashflow to avoid redundancies have been left with little choice but to lose people. Most partners have deferred drawings to make sure that the message to staff is firmly ‘we are in this together’. Furlough and wage cuts is probably the most consistent strategy.
Q. What newly qualified jobs will be available this year?
A. We expect the NQ market to be hard hit this summer unfortunately. There is still time for firms to take a view closer to September but transactional areas will be more difficult. Our advice is that if you are offered a role at your firm then it would be sensible to take what you are offered and if you aren’t offered a role then be as flexible as possible in terms of location and the area of law you’ll consider and the type of firm you’ll consider working for.
Q. If I have been furloughed or made redundant due to Covid-19, will future employers see that as a negative?
A. In future months or years when employers look over a CV and see a gap due to Covid-19, I would like to think that employers will view the current situation as a ‘one-off’ and won’t hold it against people. That said, I can see how people could get anxious about this which is perfectly understandable. Typically the private practice jobs market is very candidate driven so lawyers with hard to find skills I expect to be in high demand when we come out of this, so whether you were furloughed or made redundant will not be a reason not to arrange an interview.
Q. Do you think firms will opt for more remote working after all this is over?
A. Yes. Companies are already discussing having less office space going forward and I would expect a lot of law firms to have similar thought processes. Covid-19 caught a lot of employers out in terms of how quick lock down came about and their inability to send people home and have BAU was not possible. A lot of firms have had agile working up and running for a few years so fortunately it was very seamless and I expect more firms to implement more agile working going forward. A lot firms have realised that we don’t need to be in the office in order to operate and teams can still work and socialise together by utilising various platforms such as Microsoft Teams.
Q. Do you think the recruitment industry will change as a result of all this?
A.There are lots of positives about lockdown; work life balance, cutting out commuting time, productivity – there will possibly be an initiative to reshape and work more effectively. A lot of industries will evolve and I think law firms will too. The old way of recruiting is not necessarily the right way of continuing, it has proved to people you don’t need to meet candidates or conduct interviews face-to-face for it to work. That barrier of ‘it will never work’ doesn’t work anymore. It’s more ‘it could work’. I hope openness to doing things differently will change.
Please feel free to comment and/or ask questions here or if you would prefer a confidential discussion please do get in touch.