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January - March 2016

The recruitment process in the legal sector is becoming more rigorous for senior roles with multiple interview rounds required and the decision process taking an extended amount of time.

To find the right candidate for General Counsel, Associate General Counsel and Company Secretary roles large national and international organisations are looking further afield including interstate and sometimes overseas.

The salaries these roles command are high and the responsibilities involved are tied closely to the success of the entire organisation. Therefore employers want to take their time when choosing the right person to lead a team and drive commercial activity.

In private practice there is a candidate shortage in key areas such as Mergers and Acquisitions and Corporate Finance because candidates have either gone overseas to work or have made the move in-house.

More positions are opening up in the in-house market especially contract roles. As a result, we are seeing more candidates willing to accept a contract of up to 12 months in order to make the move from private practice and to get some solid in-house experience under their belt.

We are seeing an abundance of entry-level lawyers and paralegals trying to get their foot in the door of the employment market but they are competing with a high volume of law graduates. This means that the graduate recruitment process is extremely competitive and hard to penetrate and there is a tendency to hire most entry-level and paralegal roles on a temporary basis.

In the NSW public sector, recruitment freezes and budget restraints are still having an impact on permanent hiring levels across a number of the State Government departments. This budget restraint is driving demand for temporary placements and short-term contracts that fall outside the freeze. This trend is creating a real opportunity for temporary staff to showcase their skills and team fit to hopefully be offered a permanent role after their initial contract expires.

Skills in demand

In terms of the January to March quarter we expect to see continued demand for Corporate/Commercial Lawyers with mergers and acquisition backgrounds to fill both in-house and private practice roles. Employers typically require mid-to-senior lawyers with solid post qualification experience. Property and Construction Lawyers with large-scale commercial experience are also needed.

Commercial Property and Construction Lawyers with top tier backgrounds have continuously been sought after for in-house roles in large infrastructure/redevelopment organisations. Construction has continued to boom across NSW with redevelopment projects and urban regeneration along the Sydney waterfront generating strong demand for commercially minded, contracts-focused lawyers.

We have seen consistent use of short-term contracts amongst mid to high tier law practices, as well as in-house teams. This is often to provide cover for permanent staff members on paternity leave, secondments or travelling. These contracts are often generalist commercial law roles. We have seen a number of temporary contracts leading to more permanent roles. Larger legal teams are often more flexible when it comes to taking on additional staff who impress them.

Company Secretaries are in demand but there is a very small pool of candidates available.

In private practice, Corporate/ Mergers & Acquisition Lawyers are in demand to work in top tier, mid tier and the boutiques in response to an increase in the number of high value transactions.

Candidate trends

It has been interesting to see how private practice candidates are making more effort to impress when in secondment placements with in-house legal teams during their training.

Where possible, candidates are even starting to select their secondments based on the ideal in-house team they would like to join in the long term. The secondment gives candidates a great opportunity to assess the work style of a particular employer and to experience how closely an in-house team works with the business so they can target these employers down the line after private practice.

Associate level candidates (two to four years PQE) are continuing to either move overseas to gain broader experience or move to in-house roles thus creating a gap in the local private practice market at this level.

Lawyers starting their careers want to gain exposure to a wide range of areas and not pigeonhole themselves to a particular practice area to ensure career progression will always be available to them in any role that they take on.

We are still seeing a large amount of postgraduate lawyers and candidates with two years PQE or less looking for jobs. Suitable entry-level roles are often filled through direct applications, or previous work experience/ internships.

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