The challenge of gaining experience in a stagnant Legal market

Posted in Latest News on 27 May 2021

In ordinary times it can be a challenge for Legal Professionals to progress in their careers especially at a junior level because they don’t have specific experience in the job they are applying for, which would arm them with the expertise required for the role. 

The Legal pathway is all about development and progress, all the way from Legal Assistant through to Legal Director so training is vital in the industry to keep the market moving.  When the Covid Pandemic sent the world in to a frenzy of uncertainty in 2020, Law firms had to make the decision to cut back on spending. In some cases, this was redundancies, placing people on furlough and halting recruitment unless absolutely essential. Most also halted their usual training and any development programs as people were advised to work from home and socially distance. 

As a recruiter, I kept having the same conversations with hiring managers. In which an emphasis was placed on candidates having experience in the specific role they were applying for. This was at all levels, but clear to see with Junior roles such as Legal Assistants, Paralegals and Newly Qualified Solicitors.  If candidates did not have at least a year but ideally 2 years of experience in the same role, Law firms were not interested. They needed people who could start with minimal training who could do the role from the get-go. This requirement meant that most movers during 2020 were simply ‘side stepping’ from one firm to another and there wasn’t a driving force of progression up the ladder. With the Legal market of movers and leavers coming to a slowing stop, but training contracts coming to an end for NQs, LPC Post Grads and Law Graduates finishing their degrees but with no where to go.

It is understandable from a Law firm’s perspective, that in times of high volumes of work but short staff numbers, having new starters that require in depth training and some ‘hand holding’ is less than ideal, but how are the Law Graduates supposed to gain the necessary experience in the first instance to become a Paralegal, and how is a Paralegal able to gain the experience to become a Fee-earner? How are Lawyers wishing to change specialism and diversify able to gain experience in Conveyancing when they have been hard working within a Personal Injury team for 3 years and vice versa?

There has never been a more difficult time to switch Practise areas, progress your position or get your foot on that first rung of the ladder than over the last year.

There is some light at the end of the tunnel- as the world returns to normal- my fellow recruiters at Douglas Scott and I, are seeing the market starting to flow again. Candidates are less reluctant to leave their current roles which opens up opportunities at more junior Levels. Law firms are restarting their training and development programs to upskill their new starters and some work returns to the office where people can learn from those around them. However, there is still and will always be an emphasis on specific experience, like for like skills and exposure to work. To be taken seriously, a one- or two-month work experience placement at a Law firm does not seem to cut it anymore and Law Graduates from this year will now be competing for junior level positions with Graduates from last year who have yet to secure their first paid role in Legal.

With tough competition, my advice is to always look ahead to the job you will want next year and what skills and knowledge you will need to do that role and focus on getting relevant experience now. Remember your CV is not written but worked, and no matter what stage of your Legal career you should always be looking for development. This way you should always be one step ahead of your own career goals and moving upwards will become easier as you become an expert in what you do. If you think you have mastered your current duties, ask to be stretched with more responsibility and exposure to different types of more complex work. There are many Law firms that focus on development and progression, so if you feel your Legal Practise isn’t investing enough in yours, perhaps now is the time to find somewhere that will? 


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