What should law firms focus on in 2017?
With the vote for Brexit leaving most of the City in shock, the reverberations of this were felt certainly for the first part of the Summer. For UK firms, associate recruitment was tighter, giving firms more pause for thought as to whether new hires were necessary or whether they could utilise capacity internally first before committing to external hires. For US firms, the dollar grew stronger and with Cravath leading the charge on raising US firm associate salaries, the US firms in London have now made clear ground between remuneration with the UK firms and the increase in opportunities which follow from this.
But it’s not all been about remuneration which has had an impact on recruitment. The ongoing appetite for mergers (both defensive and strategic) continues, as national firms build their domestic empires, international firms maintain their quest for fingers in all of the global pieces of the pie and US firms continue to circle around London firms. Most recently the announced three-way forthcoming merger of Olswang, Nabarro and CMS (to become the mouthful that will be CMS Cameron McKenna Nabarro Olswang) has underlined the changing face of the market. This will leave many lawyers in workplaces which can be vastly different to those which they joined, potential conflicts and differing progression opportunities at all levels.
As well as mergers, the demise of some law firms (King & Wood Mallesons Europe arm) has exposed the different nature of law firms’ fortunes this year. Some of the smaller independent law firms are benefitting from being able to offer stable, debt free partnerships, leading the legal market place to be more diverse than ever before. No longer is the long history of a firm an indicator that it will survive in the ever-changing market place.
With 2016 drawing to a close, legal recruitment for the year ahead looks to continue to be interesting. Firms will need to keep seeking ways to boost their profits, with a need to differentiate their offering within an over-lawyered marketplace. We can predict more mergers, more diversity amongst choice of work place and a legal workforce becoming much more accustomed to change.
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