As practice areas go, they don’t get much more emotionally demanding than family law. Unfortunately, it generally does not pay as well as corporate or banking.
This fact of life tends to mean there is often a scarcity of the highest quality candidates.
As Philip Jennings, a senior consultant at JLegal, puts it, “Due to the obvious lack of repeat business, family law does not lend itself readily to candidates bringing a ‘client following’.
“However, there has increasingly been demand for lawyers with a proven record in business development and in the generation of referral business, particularly at senior level.”
Jennings adds that firms have been recruiting at the junior- to mid-level, but lateral partner hires have been most in demand.
“There are excellent family teams in the City, but no clear indication yet that the largest London firms will be putting significant resources into targeting this area,” continues Jennings. “As with private wealth, the trend over the past two decades has been for mid-town, West End and boutique firms with a commitment to – and a high profile in – family work to get the majority of the high-end matters.”
Dan Smith, a director at Noble Legal, points out another challenge facing lawyers and their clients in this area.
“Legal aid cuts could have a detrimental impact on family law,” he says. “The Government has imposed tough laws on access to legal aid. However, this is caveated to ensure that people from abusive or violent relationships will still be eligible.
“But concerns are mounting that this could lead to spurious and exaggerated claims to gain access to legal aid. The lawyers who handle this type of work will have to be cautious about this, especially if there is a big surge in the number of claims now the reforms are effective.”
Another worry is that courts will become clogged up with litigants in person with no legal training or experience “which will increase the already severe delays in the family court system and undoubtedly lead private clients to consider alternative forms of dispute resolution”, according to Smith.
Jonathan Firth, managing director of Michael Page Legal, says another impact of the legal aid cuts should be considered.
“There are a number of candidates on the market at the moment due to the changes in legal aid,” says Firth. “The most buoyant candidate pool is around the NQ to two years’ PQE level. However, competition at this level is fierce because candidates far outnumber positions available.”
There are also decent prospects for more senior lawyers, however.
As Firth adds, the top firms are putting the emphasis on attracting candidates with five years-plus experience from similarly regarded rivals.
“Candidates at this level are attractive as they can hit the ground running and will also generally have contacts and relationships they are able to transfer to the new firm,” concludes Firth.