Employment law is always popular, but what are the job prospects like?
“There’s a lot of work around and lawyers are busy,” notes Mark Walters, an associate director at Argyll Scott. “The appetite to hire, however, is tempered by firms’ lack of budget and a lower level of deal-related employment work.”
Gerry Arbuckle, a senior consultant at Laurence Simons, adds: “Although there has by no means been an avalanche of employment roles, we’ve seen a steady increase in demand since the end of 2011 driven by regulatory changes, corporate restructurings and team moves involving the enforcement of restrictive covenants.”
First Counsel’s Brian Sheehy highlights the growing demand for employment lawyers with litigious experience.
“With subdued transactional activity in the market, there has been a notable move of late towards lawyers with more contentious experience,” he says. “At the larger firms, we’re also seeing an increasing coming together of employment and financial services in the context of largescale financial services and banking investigations with significant employment law elements.”
As for in-house opportunities, the competition is fierce, according to Andrew Neil, head of legal commerce at Barclay Simpson.
“The market for in-house lawyers remains extremely competitive,” he says. “Opportunities are scarce and with in-house legal budgets highly scrutinised, only companies with a consistent volume of employment work are hiring or retaining their in-house employment resource.”
”Employment matters are often dealt with by HR in conjunction with outside counsel, although it’s certainly the case that a number of in-house roles will feature employment law issues as one of a range of matters that the in-house counsel will deal with,” stresses Guy Crawford of Laurence Simons.
“Accordingly, the message to private practice employment lawyers looking to move in-house is that it pays to be flexible in relation to the types of roles considered but also in relation to sector.”
“There’s a consistent demand for mid to senior employment lawyers to join FTSE and financial services companies, but not as regularly when compared with other disciplines,” notes Stuart Greenland of First Counsel. “Aside from the financial services sector, which has the highest demand, we’ve received mandates for employment lawyers for companies in the energy and corporate and professional services sectors. The standard of candidates is usually pretty high, with companies being able to recruit excellent calibre individuals with top 30 law firm experience.”
In-house is by no means the easy option though, warns Neil.
“The in-house market remains a great opportunity for employment lawyers looking to escape the pressures of hourly billing targets and long working hours,” he says. “However, it’s a calculated risk for the most ambitious lawyers, as a well-trodden career route is by no means mapped out.”