Of all the transactional sectors projects and energy has been one of the most resilient throughout the recession.
According to Noble Legal director Daniel Smith, “projects and infrastructure has weathered the economic turbulence and remains one of the most
buoyant markets in law, be it project finance or commercial projects work”.
JLegal senior consultant Ekaterina Rozenbaum agrees, saying that “the projects and energy markets have remained buoyant over the year, and it looks like demand in these sectors will rise further in 2014”.
The most successful firms in this area have been City players focusing on heavy-hitting international projects, particularly in the energy sector.
Senior Red Law consultant Tarnjeet Purewal says: “A number of leading US, magic circle and silver circle firms are requiring junior to mid-level associates to work on global projects in the Middle East – in Abu Dhabi and Qatar – Africa, China, and Australia.”
Smith agrees. “Demand has tended to be concentrated among the larger, international practices, both US and non-US,” he says, adding that the magic and silver circles are showing high levels of activity.
For those keen to strike out for foreign climes there are hot roles available – in more ways that one. Purewal says there is a trend towards firms hiring in London and then immediately packing recruits off to international offices or on in-house secondments.
The enthusiasm for non-domestic roles can be explained partly by a conservative funding market for UK projects and construction.
“Firms with a domestic-heavy projects and construction practice have been much more conservative in their growth, which can be explained by the lack of private and public finance being made available to fund these projects,” says Purewal.
There is little trace of that conservatism overseas, mainly due to the prevalence of large-scale energy projects.
The hunger for energy lawyers is reflected in the recent additions to firms such as Bracewell & Giuliani, which raided Clifford Chance for an energy partner in November, and DLA Piper, which has also taken on an energy partner this month.
The market for project finance for oil and gas – particularly liquefied natural gas – is really picking up and handing out some star roles to lawyers.
In Africa, the top energy roles are linked to mining, while Norton Rose Fulbright’s consolidated position has meant more mining work in North America.
But, according to Smith, it would be unwise to ignore a creeping rise in construction, which is producing a fair amount of work for the right candidates.
Taylor Root consultant Justin Gyphion says: “Demand is at its peak in relation to mid-level lawyers.”
Rozenbaum agrees, and recruiters across the board point to a hunger for lawyers with two to four years’ PQE.