Job Watch: Employment

Employment law is one area where there is generally a steady demand for talent, particularly those who have high level experience acting for employers. Recently this has been even more the case due to the increasing number of disputes that have arisen due to the economic climate.

“We’ve seen international demand for high-calibre employment lawyers, having recently made placements into the employment practices of magic and silver circle firms in Asia and the Middle East,” says JLegal senior consultant Philip Jennings. “There’s been demand at the junior and senior levels, with only a few mid-level roles at the top City firms. Most roles have favoured candidates with a broad skill set, covering contentious and advisory work as well as corporate support.”

Employment is seen as a highly desirable area to qualify into, traditionally second only to mainstream corporate work, adds Jennings, which means it is an area that often attracts a wealth of quality candidates.

Noble Legal Director Daniel Smith says there is higher demand within law firms for employment litigation and advisory work at the moment, given the severely diminished level of corporate activity in the City and thus a diminished need for corporate support. As the economy improves the balance of work will be restored. Prior to the slump the corporate support element far outweighed both advisory and contentious employment matters.

Smith echoes Jennings when he confirms that employment is the most popular area of law at NQ level. Firms can easily hire internally or import talent from rivals. Therefore, at grass roots level, positions are always filled. As lawyers tend to be pigeon-holed quite early in their careers and it is difficult to break out of the jelly mould in this respect, employment lawyers tend to remain employment lawyers. Therefore, there is a significant level of supply at all levels and employment roles always attract a great deal of interest.

Jonathan Firth, managing director of Michael Page Legal warns, however, that the in-house market for employment lawyers is quite limited. General commercial lawyers with some exposure to employment law are in some demand, says Firth, but with the exception of some very large businesses and traditional high-headcount sectors such as retail, not many companies are likely to recruit an employment purist.

“First, with an average headcount of four lawyers, most legal teams won’t want to use one on such a specialist role,” adds Firth. “Second, employment legislation is one of the most frequently changing areas of

law and while it would be common to advise on TUPE and non-contentious issues such as policies and procedures, without the time and resource to stay on top of developments most will be nervous of handling more complex and contentious issues internally.

“Sophisticated and experienced HR teams are able to deal with much of the day-to-day work and act as liaison with external council.”