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The Post-Pandemic Future For NZ Law Jobs Uncertain But Not ‘Doom and Gloom’ Either Say Legal Recruiters

A LawFuel survey of New Zealand legal recruiters shows that there is inevitable uncertainty over law jobs when the virus pandemic settles down to anything approaching normality.

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LawFuel surveyed the leading legal recruiters in the country and found that – unsurprisingly – many were picking it as too early to determine what the situation for law jobs will be after things return to ‘normal’, but several were able to provide some thoughts on where things are heading.

Frieda Crawford (left) of Clarity Consultants said she was “cautiously optimistic” about the legal recruitment outlook for 2020. The firm has local clients who are actively hiring but a number of firms are waiting to come out of Level 4 lockdown before moving ahead with recruitment campaigns.

She believes the ‘flattening of the curve’ will inspire greater confidence and help the market return to normal.

“We are also in discussions with clients in Australia who are seeking to utilise our services on a preferred supplier basis.  Due to some Asian countries ‘getting ahead of the curve early’, those countries may be in a position to enjoy an early economic recovery, which will have a positive impact on offshore recruitment.” 

Several recruiters indicated that while we are still at a very early stage in the recruitment outlook with the pandemic still being dealt with, their client firms remains optimistic and were focused on handling remote work and on staff retention.

Several indicated that recruitment activity had been placed on hold pending the lockdown, but reflected the ‘cautious optimism’ note of Frieda Crawford.

Louise Hall-Strutt of Find Recruitment said the agency had clients handling video interviews, a practice that would undoubtedly increase in future.

“Most clients are still recruiting what they view as key roles, usually the more senior level opportunities, meaning there probably will be less opportunities for graduates and junior lawyers at this stage, but we will recover from this, so it is a good time to work on your CV, reach out to a recruitment consultant you trust for advice and assistance and do some research on the market and different areas.”

Greater Flexibility

Younger lawyers would need to take a more flexible approach in respect of their first or second moves

Peter Clark at Fluid Recruitment confirmed a generally upbeat attitude from clients, although there were clearly challenges ahead but it was not a “doom and gloom” attitude.

“It does seem so far that the legal sector is slightly better positioned to adapt compared to many other industries. Whilst obvious areas will taper off, a lot of our clients seem to be taking a long term view of things, we still have new roles coming through and Partners still seem keen to hear about strong prospective applicants coming available. Firms that were short of staff previously are still looking to appoint which is a really good sign.”

Whilst it is understandably a lot quieter than usual as the market adjusts our personal view is everyone will all be looking to find the new normality as soon as possible. We still have a number of Graduate and Intermediate level roles live across a number of fields and throughout the different regions in the country so although young aspiring lawyers looking making their first or second moves will likely need to be more flexible as to their preferred areas moving forwards it is definitely not all doom and gloom at all.

In-House Recruitment

In-house legal recruiter Jenny Williams of Williams Legal Recruitment (right) said that most in-house teams are currently focused on helping their employers navigage the impacts to the coronavirus with ‘business as usual’ legal work being reprioritised.

She believes that it will take some time to rebuild recruitment momentum and although the “wheels will continue to turn again” in-house departments will be revisiting their recruiting needs and how best to handle their workoads.

“General Counsel and Team Leaders will need to be careful not to over burden lawyers in their teams particularly if they had roles to fill (now paused) prior to the lockdown. 

“My expectation is that opportunities will continue to be available for in-house lawyers with the right skills and experience however recruitment activity will be at a more modest and moderate level,” she said.

Legal Layoffs

Most recruiters report that they are not seeing any large scale layoffs. Unlike other jurisdictions – notably Australia and the UK – a major recruiter noted that they had not seen bonus deferrals or requierements to take up annual leave among the steps being taken by New Zealand firms which, they noted, are generally run on a relatively lean basis in any event.

“We know that the legal industry has a history of faring well in economic downturns, due in large part to the important services they provide,” said Frieda Crawford. “In particular, we envisage employment and restructuring/insolvency practice areas will require more staff to deal with an increase in demand.” 

Another recruiter indicated that they were aware of contingency plans for layoffs from a larger firm, although it was very much a ‘wait-and-see situation.

New Legal Opportunities

In line with the need for greater flexibility among younger and intermediate lawyers, recruiters also indicated that some areas of law were going to create some increased demand.

Among the ‘growth’ areas were employment, along with insolvency, immigration, finance, some corporate sectors and others.

In the meantime, the easing of the lockdown will also clarify the picture of just where the law jobs will be – and how many of them.

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