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Solicitors with more than three years’ PQE: impossible to recruit?

  • March 21, 2018

It’s no secret that law firms want to recruit the best talent. The right combination of skills and experience is invaluable to a firm and a suitable candidate makes a big difference to the quality of work and the bottom line. Yet many firms struggle to recruit solicitors that have more than three years’ Post-Qualified Experience (PQE). Skills shortages, tough competition and an unstable political and economic climate combine to make the legal recruitment market extremely tough yet, with the right help, not impossible.

Why three years’ PQE is a watershed moment

In any profession, the more time someone has spent carrying out tasks successfully, the less supervision they will require and the more effective they will be. The legal profession is no different and solicitors that have three or more years’ PQE will typically need less support and will have more experience handling clients and caseloads. At three years’ PQE solicitors start to become more useful to a firm as they are able to supervise an office at this point, provided they have received appropriate management training.

Crucially, three years’ PQE marks a watershed moment in terms of profitability. The Law Society Gazette explains that as a solicitor starts to move beyond the junior stage of their career, all of their training and development costs begin to pay off. The Law Society Gazette cites the period of 4-6 years’ PQE as highly desirable for law firms – a kind of golden time at which the cost of employing someone with this level of experience versus the fees they can command weighs in the employer’s favour.

In fact, PwC’s Law Firms’ Survey 2017 found that solicitors with less than 5 years’ PQE accounted for the largest group of staff across the top firms. So why is it so difficult for firms to recruit solicitors with three-plus years’ experience when there are seemingly so many of them?

The three-year itch

Once a solicitor reaches this stage of professional maturity they become hot property, hence the reason why it’s so difficult for firms to recruit candidates at this stage of their career. The firm that trained the individual is faced with the prospect that they may jump ship, taking valuable knowledge and experience with them. It’s in the firm’s best interests to keep hold of those individuals and retain that fee-earning power. Simultaneously, if the firm is to grow they need to attract more solicitors at that stage of their career – and competition is high.

Not only do other firms pose a potential threat to whether a solicitor stays or leaves, there is also competition from the lure of in-house roles. The Law Society reports that the number of professionals working in an in-house role has grown rapidly, faster than private practice. Changing technology and an evolving political and economic climate have changed the skills demanded, and the promise for solicitors to become involved in commercial strategy and shaping the future of a business has prompted many solicitors to strongly consider an in-house role. If firms are to remain competitive it’s essential that they attract and retain employees that are highly desirable.


Working in an increasingly globalised world means work opportunities arise for law firms, and also for legal professionals who are tempted to move abroad. Post-Qualified Experience cannot be earned overseas. This represents a dilemma for law firms, as they may be faced with very experienced and able candidates on paper who simply do not have the required PQE. For instance, a solicitor who was newly qualified in 2006 and who moved abroad a year later would still only have one year’s PQE upon returning to the UK in 2017.

So, while solicitors who have worked overseas may offer certain unique skills there’s still no quick workaround for firms who are looking for candidates with junior-mid level experience.

How can firms beat the competition and recruit the best candidates?

Recruitment can be a stressful affair at the best of times and especially so in the midst of a skills shortage. Posting an ad on job boards or the firm’s website can feel like sifting through an awful lot of sand to find a small amount of gold. Often, firms simply don’t have the time or the capacity to put into recruitment, alongside running the business, winning new work, carrying out existing work and simultaneously ensuring the best outcomes for their clients. This is where a recruitment agency can really prove its worth.

A reputable, experienced agency will have an extensive network of contacts and a large database of potential candidates at their disposal which can save firms a lot of legwork. Any agency worth their salt will have developed good relationships with their candidates and will be able to act as an effective, trustworthy middleman between the two parties. This is especially true where the agency is a legal recruitment specialist, as they will be familiar with the industry and will understand the unique challenges faced by the legal sector.

While there is no magic solution, by being alert to the issues surrounding competition and retention law firms stand a better chance of attracting individuals with the right experience. A professional recruitment partner doesn’t just present the best candidates, they can advise how firms can hold onto their best talent: an investment that pays off now and in the future.

If you found this blog interesting, please check out our other blogs on Is there any Legal Talent left? and How to attract and retain millenials. Furthermore, contact our team to speak about your recruiting needs, call 01772 259 121.

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Clayton Legal’s South East recruitment analysis in the press

  • August 27, 2017

Our latest market analysis for advertised legal roles in the South East has been covered by a number of titles including The Global RecruiterStaffing Industry Analysts and Bdaily.

One of the key findings is that vacancies for private practice lawyers have increased across the region by 36% month-on-month – with the increased cost of living in London being a contributing factor.

To read more about our analysis, including the comments of our managing director, Lynn Sedgwick, click on any of the links above.

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Legal jobs outside of London

  • July 28, 2017

The capital has traditionally been the legal employment hub in the UK but now throughout the UK there are now several firms, of all sizes, creating legal jobs outside of London. However, even with property prices plateauing, the capital is still beyond the reach of many who are starting out in their careers and many legal professionals might be starting to look further afield. The options to move elsewhere to pursue a role have significantly opened up. But where can you find legal jobs outside of London?

Legal jobs outside of London

Leeds may stake its claim to being the country’s second-largest legal hub outside of London, while Sheffield, Liverpool and Manchester follow closely behind. The concept of ‘northshoring,’ where firms relocate their services centres into the northern part of the country, has certainly contributed to this growth and is expected to continue to do so in the coming years.

Recent figures from recruitment trade body APSCo found there was a 31% increase in the number of vacancies in the north east of England within private practice. And, in Scotland, both Glasgow and Edinburgh have a thriving and profitable legal scene.

What to keep in mind

Aside from property, salaries may be a strong determining factor in candidate’s decisions. The infamous north/south divide is not as disparate as might have been assumed. Average salaries for legal counsel in Greater London are £73,000, versus £72,000 for the same in Leeds. However, further down the seniority level, salaries for legal assistants are commanding salaries of £28,000 in London and £20,500 in Leeds. So the gap in pay remains in the mix, particularly at the lower end of the profession.

The increasing levels of student debt have been well-publicised and increasingly it looks as if it could become a barrier to university entry with some estimates putting the overall figure on the total debt being as high as £100 billion. So for many who previously may have considered entering the legal profession via the university route, their options are being re-examined in light of these statistics.

Apprenticeship options

The introduction of the Apprenticeship Levy earlier this year, might be part of the solution to finding legal jobs outside of London for many candidates. Not only may it lead to increased levels of diversity and social mobility as the barriers to new entrants are substantially reduced, but it also offers a salaried way into the profession while studying on the job.

While it’s unlikely that changes in attitude will occur overnight, the opportunities the Levy affords to candidates, as more firms decide to offer apprenticeship routes into law, will open up the profession to a more diverse workforce in the long run.

Finally, for many candidates, work-life balance issues are increasingly playing an important role within their decision-making process. While the law can be a tough employer, with a wide range of skills required to succeed, work-life balance has not, until now, been particularly evident in the mix.

While salaries may be lower outside London several factors may influence a candidate’s decision of where to locate themselves. For many, the lack of a long commute or even the rise of the ‘reverse commute’ from cities to suburban areas, the lifestyle choice on offer, and the chance of either owning or renting a property which may be out of reach in the capital are all appealing factors. In a pressurised environment such as law, these may prove to be the deciding factors that legal professionals are starting to consider.

If you’re looking for your next legal job outside of London, or are looking for a role in the capital, then get in touch with our expert team.

Or check out some of our other blogs to gain some great, cutting-edge legal advice

Or take a look at some of our current legal jobs


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Why partners need to listen more to their fee earners

  • July 3, 2017

A new report by the research and information firm, LexisNexis, suggests that there could be a growing disconnect between partners in mid-sized firms across the UK and the front line fee earners that work for them.

The study – ‘Mind the Gap’ – found that partners tended to have a much more optimistic view of their firms than more junior lawyers. For example, 84% believed that their firm had a clear commercial strategy for the future, as opposed to just 62% of professional employees and 72% believed that the partnership was capable of ‘agile’ decision making as opposed just 52% of those further down the pecking order. Partners and more junior lawyers also disagreed on what should be the priority issue in 2016 with the former focused on review of information sources while the latter were crying out for more investment in processes and technology. Perhaps most worryingly, well over half of the partners not only disagreed with their employees but actually seemed to believe that no further attention needed to be paid to these areas.

So why does it matter and, furthermore, why is it of interest to a professional recruiter?

The reason is perhaps obvious. If the study is truly representative of UK law firms – at least those in the medium-sized bracket – then it does suggest that many leaders are not communicating with their people as effectively as they could be and are consequently not winning ‘hearts and minds’. And this is important because the logical result will be a lack of engagement that will impact on the day-to-day effectiveness of the business and raise levels of staff attrition.

It also makes it harder to attract and hire the sort of high-calibre legal talent that a practice needs in order to thrive in increasingly competitive markets. In our hyper-connected world, candidates will quickly pick up on any divergence of message and mission between partners and professional staff, and, in many cases, will respond by voting with their feet. A truly attractive employer brand can only be built on a healthy and open culture. And this, in turn, calls for effective, two way internal communication where goals and objectives are continually shared, rather than simply handed down from above.

Do you think there should be closer relationships between fee-earners and partners? Let us know your thoughts below.

Get in touch today to see how we can help your company with hiring experts to join your team. Call the office on 01772 259121 or Register a Vacancy here.

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Is the concept of the billable hour dead and buried?

  • June 13, 2017

As we all know, the billable hour has been the de-facto payment structure adopted across the legal sector. In fact, according to Sean Braswell, a leading legal journalist, the practice dates back to 1975 and the American case of Goldfarb vs Virginia State where it was discovered that the prior ‘minimum fee’ structure was outdated and favoured richer clients. However, it appears as if this trend – and the idea of the billable hour as a whole – could be coming to end. But what does this mean for legal professionals and the firms they work for?

RIP billable hour

The trend of moving away from the billable hour gained momentum during the financial crisis when consumers started to look for more cost effective external legal guidance and began identifying alternative fee arrangements (AFA). These came in various forms including flat fees, request for proposals (RFPs) and reverse auctions over the once universally accepted hourly fee structure.

Why did this happen?

The financial crisis – rather obviously – put extra pressure on both individuals and organisations which started putting more of a focus on their legal costs and how to reduce them, improve efficiency and value for money so clients essentially get a fairer deal from their legal partner.

However, it looks like this renewed focus has in fact had a negative impact and led to a decline in output. Firms’ productivity has traditionally been measured on billable hours per lawyer, which presents leaders with a challenging situation as remuneration and bonuses have also traditionally been calculated by total number of hours billed.

A report from Thomson Reuters has also highlighted how billable hours have dropped in the last 10 years and gone from an average of 134 per lawyer in 2007 to 122 in 2016. That may not seem like a huge fall, but this monthly reduction – extrapolated over a full year – equates to a loss of 144 billable hours per lawyer per year, which ‘costs’ firms around £53,000 annually.

It would be unfair to suggest that this is solely down to a shift towards AFAs in recent years, however legal firms have a challenge on their hands bringing productivity up to its previous level. And legal professionals will also need to be prepared for change.

New skills

It’s likely that, as a result of this changing market, negotiation will become an increasingly sought after and important trait as firms seek those who have the ability to agree upon and adopt more flexible fee structures that are embraced by legal consumers. Professionals will also have to change the way they document the work they’ve done for clients. And let’s not forget communication, which will be absolutely pivotal as clients cast a more discerning eye on their legal partners. Perhaps most importantly, lawyers will also need to find ways to demonstrate how they can show value to the business beyond the numbers of hours they can bill for.

Do you think the age of the billable hour is coming to an end?

For more legal insight check out our website

Or to see some of our other insights take a look at our blog

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