banner image

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.

Share This Post