Job Watch: Commercial litigation

It is hardly a secret that litigators have been doing a roaring trade since the economic downturn, largely thanks to financial institutions trying to dig themselves out of regulatory tight spots. But, as the market picks up and the financial furore begins to settle, are litigators still needed in their droves?

“The market remains strong for commercial litigators, continuing a real trend that has dominated over the past 18 months,” reassures Robert Walters’ director of legal recruitment Colin Loth. “Arbitration has also been a growing area of focus, driven in part by political will, but we are still witnessing a steady flow of litigation arising from the financial crisis.”

In fact, a number of recruiters suggest that the number of disputes jobs on the market is on the up. While there is still a place for broad based commercial litigators, Dan Smith of Noble Legal notes that “more rarified” disputes lawyers, such as those regulatory or life sciences experiences are best equipped to find a new role in the market.

Firms with a strong financial services slant are particularly on the look out for new litigation recruits. “US firms (both new entrants to the London market and the more established firms) have been relatively acquisitive all year and now they are being joined by the magic circle and the more traditional City disputes firms,” says Jlegal’s Lawrence Evans.

Specialised disputes boutiques are also hiring at the moment. Associates from traditional litigation firms are thinking “this is the gravy train, let’s get on it,” says Milo O’Connor at Hudson Legal. He refers to these booming firms as “uber-boutiques”, explaining that they have benefitted from financial disputes work and an influx of litigation from wealthy individuals based overseas.

No matter what type of firm jobseekers are after, one thing is a dead cert – associates between two and six years PQE are most likely to strike it lucky. RedLaw’s Mark Hosking advises that the market is currently particularly tough for young associates outside of this bracket, and that “NQ roles are almost non-existent”. Evans says that Jlegal is increasingly helping these young litigators find roles outside London or overseas.

Experience of working in financial disputes is a benefit for associates looking for a new post at the moment, as is the ability to advise on internal or regulatory investigations. That said, if finance is not your thing, other niche areas are also recruiting. Smith says: “Within the commercial litigation market, we have witnessed greater demarcation with an emphasis on specific disputes, such as life sciences, construction or banking.”

Although hardly unique to litigation, cross-border experience is also highly sought after since so much disputes work involves multiple jurisdictions.

All in all, it’s good news for disputes lawyers. As dark clouds begin to clear from the corporate market, the pipeline for commercial litigation work looks unlikely to run dry any time soon.