The two key factors that marked out the recession of the early 1990s from its predecessors were the damage it caused to hitherto secure areas such as the legal profession and the fact that its effects were felt harder in the South of England than in the North. The result of this 'double-whammy' was that many ambitious lawyers, frustrated by the downturn of business in London, followed Lord Tebbit's advice and got on their bikes (or into their BMWs) and headed for the provinces.
But what has happened to this exodus of talent from the capital, now that recovery seems underway?
As the market in London, and specifically in the City, has picked up, the number of candidates looking to relocate has reduced substantially- in our own experience by as much as 14 per cent on this time last year. This has come about, not just because of an upturn in activity in the South East, but also because of a tougher approach by firms outside the capital to potential migrants. Many of those firms, particularly in the North, who welcomed London lawyers with open arms two or three years ago, had their fingers burnt by individuals who used the relocation card as a lever against their own practices or who failed to settle into the local business environment.
Although prospective employers around the country are still keen to recruit candidates with a City background, they are now quizzing candidates in much greater detail about their reasons for wanting to relocate.
Provincial firms are right to do this. Although there has always been a large number of younger, less experienced candidates looking to move to London, interest among solicitors with more than two years post-qualification experience was generally low. Yet over the past six months the number of senior candidates registering with us seeking a return to the South East has increased by nearly one third. Few, if any, complain about the quality of work experience they have gained – most are returning because of continuing culture-shock or simple home sickness.
Ironically the drop in numbers of those looking to move out of London may, in the end, actually stimulate the process. Candidates on the market now have valid reasons behind their desire to relocate, rather than aiming to sit out a period of recession in exile. Of those who contacted us about a recent seminar on working outside London, more than half were looking to return for the foreseeable future to their place of birth after training in the City.
For some, London will always remain the only credible base for a successful career – one applicant for the seminar, when asked which area he was interested in moving to, said “Cockfosters”. But for those looking to balance career with quality of life, escape from the capital will continue to beckon.
Tim Bates is managing director of recruitment consultancy, Daniels Bates Legal.