As the legal profession watches Semple Fraser call in the administrators and Dundas & Wilson reports a slump in net profit it is hardly surprising that the rumour mill is abuzz with talk of the Scottish market’s demise.
The region has certainly seen its fair share of turbulence. Frasia Wright, managing director of Frasia Wright Associates, says there is “a lot of soul-searching among firms just now”.
Michael Page manging director Jonathan Firth elaborates: “The Scottish legal market is going through a period of change. Some firms are consolidating due to market conditions and some are merging to either strengthen or stabilise their market presence.”
All this moving and shaking is only a good thing for lawyers in search of new roles. In fact, it is leading to projected growth in several practice areas in 2013.
According to David Thomson, head of legal for Scotland and Ireland at Hudson Legal, “Strategic mergers and alliances have strengthened offerings across the legal market, with many firms now having a stronger national presence and a larger, sustainable client base. This has led to increasing signs of stability.”
Areas that go hand-in-hand with market recovery are likely to pick up, including construction and commercial property. Thomson suggests that the projects area is also set to blossom, thanks in part to the Glasgow Commonwealth Games 2014, while energy lawyers will continue to be snapped up to work in the ever-expanding Aberdeen private practice market.
Firth says that region is “unique” due to the booming oil and gas sector.
“Many legal firms are looking for ways to enter the Aberdeen market to capitalise on this growth, although we are finding it difficult to find a foothold or suitable partner to do so,” he says.
In general, however, Firth asserts: “As the market shows some signs of recovery we’re seeing firms hiring at the one to three years’ PQE level in a bid to bulk up resources to assist with the increased workload.”
And it is not only spring chickens who will reap the rewards of recovery. Thomson reckons there is also demand for mid-level associates in most disciplines. Plus, thanks to the flurry of mergers “new opportunities at partner level exist in all the major cities in Scotland as these firms look to make their presence felt”.
Wright adds that senior lawyers with “strong and proven business development skills” are particularly sought after at the moment.
“That really has become a key skill shortage that firms are looking for,” she adds.
Beyond Scotland’s private practice roller coaster, the in-house scene remains relatively stable.
Wright explains: “We’re seeing a rise in in-house instructions at all levels as organisations look to manage their legal spend and build up their in-house advisers.”
An influx of ABSs in the region is also likely to affect the jobs market.
“Clearly, the landscape is changing,” says Thomson. “Expect a substantial rise in ABSs in 2014.”