Job Watch: Property

Inertia in the property market over the past few years has made it a tricky time for property lawyers in the City and further afield, but what are the prospects in 2012?

“It’s an understatement to say that the recruitment market has been tough for property lawyers in recent years,” says Laura Seiler, a recruitment consultant at Laurence Simons. “At the height of the recession whole property teams were disbanded and opportunities for aspiring property newly qualifieds were a rarity. In 2010 and 2011, despite some hope of market stabilisation, property teams were still reticent about hiring.”

However, Brian Sheehy of First Counsel stresses that things are beginning to look up.

“The outlook is looking brighter than it has been in some while for the better lawyers at City firms, as one of the leading property teams in the City has gone on something of a recruitment drive of late, with a view to capitalising on advantageous market conditions for lawyers in this area,” he says.

“We’re only now getting to the point where firms are looking to make direct like-for-like replacements when their existing staff leave as they seek to maintain client service levels,” adds Tom Pogmore, manager of legal recruitment at Robert Walters’ Birmingham office.“The preference has been to feed teams from the bottom up. Specifically, we’ve seen a return in the past six months of core development roles, both commercial and residential, most seemingly replacement hires rather than substantial growth.”

Young property lawyers are particularly in demand at the moment, notes Seiler.

“With very few trainees qualifying into property during the recession it comes as no surprise that firms who are looking to recruit tend to be focusing on the 2-4 PQE level. For associates who want a stable career path there are some great opportunities within the larger city property teams,” she adds. “However, we’ve also seen several positions within smaller US firm teams, these offer property associates at the junior end the opportunity to gain unparalleled client exposure and a broad range of work.”

And where are the best opportunities available right now?

“The locations where we are seeing the most jobs in this area are London, Birmingham, Bristol and Manchester,” says Pogmore.

In-house options are still limited in the current climate though, adds Stuart Greenland of First Counsel.

“There has been a low demand for in-house property lawyers since 2008, the roles we’ve seen tend to be replacement rather than growth-related opportunities,” says Greenland. “In businesses with large property portfolios it is still cost-effective to have in-house real estate counsel, however the current incumbents of those roles are holding on to their desks which means fewer external opportunities coming to market.”