The 2023 UK in-house legal job market reflects a shift from the record-highs of 2022. While some sectors have experienced steady hiring during the first half of the year, economic uncertainties have impacted hiring patterns across industries particularly technology and financial services. Hiring freezes and reduced budgets have become common, leading to the need for greater efficiency within legal departments.
Key trends emerging for 2023:
- Rise of AI
Artificial intelligence continues to make its presence felt in the legal industry. General Counsels must prioritise upskilling to effectively advise their businesses on AI-related legal matters and emerging technologies. Lawyers across all levels also need to stay up to date on AI and legal tech to take advantage of the opportunities it can provide.
2. Strain on legal teams
Many in-house legal teams are now faced with the challenge of accomplishing more with fewer resources. They are expected to be highly adaptable and capable of handling diverse responsibilities.
3. Focus on ESG and sustainability
The growing impact of Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) initiatives has resulted in companies seeking legal departments to advise and lead on related matters. Sustainability concerns are now an integral part of legal considerations.
4. Utilising interim lawyers
In response to market uncertainties, companies are capitalizing on high-calibre interim lawyers, appointing them on an interim basis with the potential for permanent roles when market confidence returns. This flexible approach allows businesses to maintain legal capabilities without long-term commitments.
Several industries have experienced increased legal hiring activity in 2023, notably in media & entertainment, leisure, renewable energy, and biotechnology sectors. The most in-demand profile remains mid-level lawyers with 2-6 years of Post-Qualification Experience (PQE). Specialist employment and litigation counsel positions are also in higher demand compared to previous years. Additionally, companies are focusing on hiring experts in privacy, regulatory compliance, and risk management to navigate complex legal frameworks effectively.
The demand for flexible working arrangements remains high, and salary compensation now takes precedence over high equity-based packages. Candidate sentiment indicates reduced interest in financially uncertain high-growth tech and fintech companies. Senior candidates in stable roles are exercising caution when considering job changes and junior lawyers whilst very active are seeking out stability from larger teams and well-known brands.
While economic uncertainties have influenced ability to hire, companies are finding opportunities to appoint high-quality talent and capitalise on interim lawyers. Lawyers seeking opportunities will need to navigate the changing market conditions but should hopefully find more opportunities after the summer slow down period and into 2024. When hiring companies will need to focus on delivering engaging and efficient recruitment processes.
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