How to catch and keep a City lawyer

Regional firms often need City talent. Alex Van Hattum reveals the methodology behind getting it

All law firms must recruit to fulfil their requirement for new talent. For many regional firms, the likely hunting ground is London, with its large pool of skilful lawyers who have gained the right experience and may be disaffected with their lifestyles and working hours. The benefits to lawyers who decide to make the move can be many, including an improved lifestyle and variety of work as well as greater opportunities for career progression.

But the relocation process can be delicate, and firms must commit to careful management of the process to ensure that the expectations of both the firm and the candidate are met.

Potential barriers to relocating

Family: Despite often being the main driver for the decision to relocate, families may bring a number of complications into the equation. Firms should make every effort to involve a candidate’s family in the recruitment process, and provide comprehensive information on schooling, housing and medical care. It can be beneficial to provide the candidate and their family with a network of contacts within the firm who have made a similar move and who can provide advice based on their own experiences. A crucial part of managing the relocation process is ensuring that a candidate’s family is fully informed and behind the move; reluctance on their part is the most likely reason for a candidate to pull out of the process.

Money: For some, the cost of relocating can be daunting. Firms committed to the recruitment process appreciate this and are able to offer a generous tax-free relocation allowance. This can also provide a cushioning of the initial salary drop that many lawyers may face when leaving the City. Candidates, though, should be made aware of the long-term financial benefits of a career move. There are often better opportunities for career progression in regional firms, and several are extremely profitable.

Quality of work: A number of regional law firms are able to offer the quality of work on offer at top City firms. Lawyers making the move early on in their careers need to ensure they join a firm that has the resources to develop them throughout their career and provide them with the experience they need to be at the top end of their profession. Firms must market themselves carefully to raise awareness of the quality of work they are undertaking and gain the confidence of potential employees. Candidates should realise that the more varied workload and greater autonomy on offer at top regional firms can actually provide a greater level of job satisfaction than that which they have previously experienced.

Timing: Most law firms look to recruit at the two to four years’ post-qualification experience (PQE) level (partner lateral hires aside). Many lawyers wait until later in their careers – perhaps four to six years’ PQE – to make the move out of the City. There is quite clearly a lack of fit between the two. There are exceptions, but it is worth making lawyers aware that they need to start thinking about a potential change slightly earlier on in their careers. Otherwise, they may find they are unable to join their first choice firm, or they can be forced into a more junior vacancy, which will slow down their career progression.

This article outlines a number of possible scenarios, and of course every candidate will have their own individual factors to consider. But one thing remains the same: effective management of the relocation process enables lawyers’ expectations to be met and leads to the long-term retention of talent.

Alex Van Hattum is head of legal recruitment at Burges Salmon