Job Watch: Private Equity

It may seem as if the glory days of private equity are long gone after the credit crunch saw the market grind to a slow halt. But lawyers with a foot in the private equity arena have reason to be cautiously optimistic.

According to Anouska Tamony, a consultant at JLegal, the market has remained relatively flat overall but there have been positive green shoots, “with strengthening fundamentals underpinning some of the sector’s largest and most exciting deals”.

Tamony is not the only recruitment specialist who reckons things are looking up. Jonathan Firth, managing director of Michael Page Legal, says he has seen some movement in the M&A market as the market shows signs of at least a partial recovery.

Of course, it is impossible to stamp a due date on the bounce back of the market, but the consensus among the majority of recruiters is that hiring in the private equity transactional space will be back in growth mode in the latter half of 2013.

Another result of the economic downturn is that the private equity market has become increasingly regional, as opposed to global, with different jurisdictions having diverse conditions and forecasts. Those in the market for a private equity role may be advised to cast an eye further afield.

As Tamony says, “Europe has been hit by austerity measures whilst North America has seen a pick up. Asia has slowed a little and South America has seen good growth. It’s anticipated by some that this regionalisation may be replicated in future fundraisings, with fewer ‘global’ funds coming to the market”.

Young associates

So, which levels of qualification are favoured by the current job market? For now it seems that young associates are reaping the rewards. For Colin Loth, director of legal at Robert Walters, “it’s primarily one to four years PQE”, while Firth hedges his bets by pinpointing the “two to four PQE” level. Sarah Coughtrie at DMJ Legal says those between three and five PQE are most in demand, while US firms will recruit fresh-faced first and second year associates just starting out in their careers.

In fact, US firms are rich pickings for private equity associates on the hunt for a new challenge. Coughtrie says, “a number of US firms in London have muscled in on the traditional UK private equity firm territory, and are cultivating strong dedicated teams”.

Loth agrees, “US firms are the main point of hiring at this stage, and they’ll always look to up-skill from the junior level,” he says. Opportunities are set to emerge at all sorts of firms, however.

“Heavy hitting partners from magic and silver circle firms are setting up teams in these practices, attracting junior and mid level associates,” continues Coughtrie, adding, “a number of boutique corporate firms have been established by specialists to target private equity and funds clients.”

Whichever type of firm you’re seeking, it seems the glass is half full.