As we head into another week in lock-down, Hayden Gordine, Partner Taylor Root and Head of Australia, explores the ramifications of coronavirus on the legal marketplace, the evolving trends and the impacts upon legal employers in Australia.
Hayden talks about marketplace trends in the wake of the global coronavirus pandemic, the issues and challenges that have emerged in the legal market, the sectors of the legal profession have been hit hardest (if any), inherent opportunities from this health crisis, and predictions and advice for lawyers for the future across the board.
What marketplace trends are you currently witnessing in legal recruitment in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic?
The short-term trend for legal employers has been to prioritise the “business impact of coronavirus”, which naturally necessitates a pause on recruitment processes, so that employers can concentrate on the health of its now-remote workforce.
Where recruitment processes did continue, the focus was the personal health of the interviewers and the candidate resulting in video interviewing replacing face-to-face meetings, contracts [have] been signed remotely via Adobe Sign and many discussions around how to effectively remote onboard.
For all our clients, there is uncertainty as to the long-term impacts that the coronavirus may have on a firm’s performance and how that may change the requirements of the businesses with respect to their staffing needs.
There is no doubt that many of our clients have placed a hold on recruitment in the short-term, but an equal number have asked us for guidance and assistance with a hiring process that is more flexible, that identifies and vets top talent, that focuses on candidate engagement over a longer period of time and that will retain a candidate’s interest where a possible start date could be six months away.
Are any demographics being hit harder than others?
The recruitment challenge facing Biglaw now is staffing the countercyclical practice areas including but not limited to employment, insolvency, bankruptcy, restructuring and litigation, which he said will remain busy over the course of the pandemic.
Utilisation of junior lawyers from other practice areas is the likely solution for junior workflow. At the senior level, partners with countercyclical practice will be busy and less likely to be on the market, their practice will have a renewed value and they were also short supply prior to the pandemic which combined will make recruitment a difficult challenge. Given this, those in the boutique space may come under the microscope.
There is a potential for boutiques to face competition from BigLaw for partners/senior lawyers with countercyclical practices as BigLaw place[s] more value on those practices and it becomes financially attractive to move. However, so far, we have seen the opposition, with several boutiques with strong government and countercyclical practices showing an increased interest in speaking with senior talent on a contingent basis.
What are the major issues that legal employers will be facing – presently and in the near future – as a result of the pandemic?
Uncertainty will be the biggest issue for any legal employer at this juncture. It’s hard to plan ahead in regard to headcount and hiring plans when you are unsure where the market will head in “one of humanity’s greatest challenges”. It is also very important at this time for employers to take care of staff health and well-being to ensure that all stay feel safe and supported. As to the future, there is uncertainty as to the long-term impacts that the coronavirus may have on a firm’s performance. Navigating this environment will be difficult and no doubt ever-changing, but the COVID-19 pandemic will eventually pass. It is impossible at this stage to know when or how long but it would be prudent to keep an eye on the future, including recruitment.
Conversely, what are some opportunities that can and will arise as a result of the pandemic?
Whilst the issues and challenges for legal employers are significant during these unprecedented times, there are also a handful of professional opportunities. The big opportunity of the pandemic is a greater acceptance and understanding of remote working which will help close the gender gap and promote more female lawyers into the partnership. While law firms are now set up to work remotely, all partners have now experienced working remotely, the obsession with ‘facetime’ will be left behind after [the] pandemic passes. We will have a new understanding of professionalism and performance that is fairer to all caregivers and one that removes another barrier that professional women face.
What advice, if any, would you offer to lawyers coming through the ranks and/or those who have been made redundant/asked to reduce salary or hours?
For the new generation of lawyers, COVID-19 is unlike anything previously experienced from a professional standpoint. The fallout from the global financial crisis of just over 10 years ago, however, offers some lessons for more senior legal professionals – particularly those in leadership positions.
The pandemic has “forced every citizen in the world to adapt to this new normal, and my advice would be to be flexible, to focus on the collective good and understand that we all must make individual sacrifices.
For those lawyers working reduced hours, they should use this time to upskill on new topics that may be of value to themselves or their employers and use this time to chart their own career paths. A reduction of salary/hours is a small short-term price for the greater good of every employee in a firm retaining their position.
For those who have been made redundant then I would just advise them to be patient and keep speaking to their network and good recruiters. There are good job opportunities out there which are proceeding, though of course the volume will vary depending on the person’s experience.
The unpredictability of the global coronavirus pandemic has seen a significant upheaval in the landscape of Australia’s legal profession, and whilst we do not have all the answers at this juncture, there are undoubtedly many opportunities for legal professionals to take advantage of all opportunities available to ensure their professional longevity.