As the latest flurry of high street outfits plunging into administration shows, the consumer goods sector has been rocked by the financial crisis. How has this affected demand for legal expertise in the fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) and retail sectors?
“It’s no secret that 2012 was a difficult year for the high street and FMCG companies generally,” says Guy Crawford, a managing consultant at Laurence Simons. “With a few notable exceptions, demand for lawyers in the FMCG and retail markets has been limited to replacements rather than the creation of new roles. That said, the markets have got off to a good start this year, which may well allay fears about the economy and precipitate an increase in hiring.”
“With consumer spending down, legal recruitment in the retail and FMCG sectors has not been immune from the challenges experienced by businesses in these areas,” adds Colin Loth, director of legal recruitment at Robert Walters. “Despite this trend, we have seen growth among online retailers and this is having an impact on roles for lawyers.
“Traditionally, we’d see demand for property, employment and IP lawyers from traditional retailers looking to expand their business and open new stores. Recently, we’ve seen a notable demand for lawyers from an IT/IP background to work with online retailers dealing with IT, data protection and payment services work. But in all cases employers want people with significant commercial experience.”
However, Jonathan Firth, managing director at Michael Page Legal, stresses that recruitment activity is still below par.
“We’re seeing slightly more demand in retail than FMCG, but overall it’s relatively low,” he says.
Junior to mid-level associates are the most sought-after candidates, adds Firth.
“Most firms are looking to recruit at two to four years’ PQE, as such candidates can be charged out at a cost-effective rate,” he says.
“Employers want people who can hit the ground running but are not so senior that their salary expectations are out of line with the industry,” adds Loth.
There are arguably more opportunities up for grabs in the in-house market, according to Crawford.
“The in-house market is developed and a broad range of opportunities exist,” he says. “Typically, FMCG and retail companies tend to look for candidates with between three and seven years’ PQE as they have enough experience to work effectively, autonomously and in close proximity to the business.”
The trend for companies to rein in costs by bringing more of their legal services in-house has also affected recruitment, says Firth.
“Retail and FMCG companies are building up their in-house teams in a cost-cutting exercise to reduce the need for external counsel,” he says.
“Trends are consistent across the market, meaning there’s more demand for commercial lawyers from an IT/IP background as businesses focus more online,” concludes Loth.