Job Watch: Employment

With so many businesses grappling with retirement, unfair dismissal, discrimination and immigration issues, employment lawyers have never been busier. But what are their career prospects?

A study of those who have created job alerts asking to be informed when a job matching their criteria is posted on is instructive, with nearly a fifth looking for employment-related jobs.

Who’s hiring?

Given the plethora of employment cases in the headlines, you might be forgiven for thinking that the biggest demand is for contentious specialists. Not so, says James Franklin of Robert Walters.

“Generally we haven’t seen specific contentious employment opportunities,” he observes.

Alex Wiseman of Taylor Root notes that, while candidates cite a lack of contentious work as a motive for moving, most City firms need lawyers to focus on advisory work.
“At City firms contentious work rarely accounts for more than 33 per cent of an associate’s practice,” says Wiseman.

In-house or private practice?

“Employment jobs in-house are among the most sought-after and historically there’s not tended to be much movement, especially at a junior level,” says Syed Nasser of Abrahams Russell.

Julian Stone of Taylor Root agrees that competition is fierce.

“Most companies that took on in-house employment counsel in 2008-09 to cope with the last downturn still have them,” he says. “The banking and finance sector remains the most volatile and therefore the most likely to recruit employment lawyers.

General commerce and industry organisations tend to recruit employment lawyers only when they reach a certain size. As such, most listed organisations will have one or two employment lawyers. Smaller companies tend to recruit lawyers who are generalists.”

Partnership prospects

First Counsel’s Will Cock urges caution over partnership prospects.

“Prospects for senior associates at the six years’-plus level aren’t as good as for two- to five-years’ PQE,” he says. “Immediate partnerships are becoming difficult to secure, but that’s not limited to employment. It’s easier for senior associate employment lawyers to build a client following than their corporate finance or litigation counterparts. But most firms’ anticipated growth is in corporate and finance.”

Nasser adds: “The prospects for a senior associate to move into the partnership are relatively poor compared with 2007-08, when there was still significant ’bums on seats’ hiring going on in the City.”

However, Scott Gibson of Edwards Gibson argues that there is a slight premium in terms of partnership offers to senior associates for lawyers with experience of acting for financial institutions.

“This may be because major financial institutions use a wider range of firms for their employment law than they do for their finance or corporate matters,” he explains.