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We recently surveyed thousands of companies and candidates in our 2021 Salary and Benefits Guide to unearth exclusive industry insights. We found that whilst 44% of legal professionals are currently in the job market and the time to hire period remains high at 4.8 months on average. With that in mind, we caught up with David Holden, National Business Manager at Search Legal, to discuss what motivates candidates looking for a new role and what employers can do to ensure they attract the top talent within tight timeframes.

Q&A with David Holden, National Business Manager at Search Legal


Q)  On average, it takes 4.8 months for companies to fill legal positions. What do you think are the main reasons for this?

“Currently, in the legal market, we're seeing time to hire being a lot more than it previously was before the pandemic. The practice market within Legal has always been candidate-led, certainly for the last 5, 6, 7, 8 years, but ever more so at the moment where we're finding less talent freely moving around, definitely means that we have to be a lot more proactive when we're trying to attract the lawyers in the first place. And we do find that that has really affected time to hire for all law firms. Some are able to recruit relatively quickly if the candidates are available and they could have someone in place within 3-4 months. However, it's more than likely that the recruitment process itself can take up to three months to find suitable people to hire and thereafter, they've got to wait for another three months on average for somebody to start.”

Q)  What advice would you give to employers looking to speed up the recruitment process?

“It’s really important when clients are looking at their hiring process, to make sure firstly that when they see talent and good lawyers that they like, that they move very fast. It's important to make yourself available, to be flexible, and certainly to make sure that you outline the process at the very beginning so everybody's aware what's required.

I think we're seeing a lot of clients use video interview a bit less, but certainly the initial stages are still done on video to allow for that initial meeting to be very quick often within a day of receiving a CV and thereafter, even second interviews are being set up within a few days after that. Because clients are understanding that when good people come along, it's very key that they move quickly to secure them.”

Q)   74% of legal professionals we spoke to would be willing to accept a fully remote role. What is your take on remote working in the legal industry?

“I think we've seen remote working within the legal industry for awhile and it's interesting that three quarters of legal professionals would be willing to accept a fully remote role. I wonder within the practice market itself, whether that number is truly that high.I think a lot of people have had remote working a 100% due to the pandemic across the last 18 months and certainly the majority of the people that I speak to are happy to go back to the office in some way. And certainly some are very much wanting to be based in the office fives days a week, it gives them a semblance of normality routine and also gets them around people who are their team members who they can bounce ideas off and really feel like they're part of something versus, sitting at home alone.

That said, we have seen an increase in work from home roles and for some people they do work really well. If you're looking to balance childcare with work, the work-life balance you can achieve through that is very good. But as a result, you will more often than not find that the salaries for work from home roles are potentially slightly lower than what you would get otherwise. However, across the legal industry in practice, we're finding that most law firms are now offering up to 50% work from home. So it does allow them to get a good split, which most people seem to be happy with.”

Q) 42% of legal professionals receive bonuses. Do you think bonuses can incentivise prospective candidates?

“It’s interesting when we look at bonuses for lawyers, particularly within private practice, there's very much a targeted environment that they do work in, whether it be to billable hours or a multiplier of their base salary. I think that a majority of the clients we work with will offer performance related bonuses, certainly to the lawyers that have gone above and beyond and where the firms performed really well too, they're always keen to pay that back to the guys that have put in.

However, we do also see equally, lawyers that come to us where particularly in the last year, they've done more billable hours than they've ever done, they haven't received any bonus or maybe a token gesture of a bonus, and they are keen to make sure they're going where they are going to be remunerated properly and fairly for the effort they’re doing and certainly recognised through bonus when they go above and beyond.”

Q)   Are there fewer legal professionals in the job market in 2021? What are the most in-demand roles or hardest to fill roles?

“I wouldn’t say there were fewer legal professionals in the job market this year, but what we are seeing is a lot less of the high calibre talent actively coming to market.

As recruiters we're having to be extremely proactive, we always have been but ever more so now where there's a need for us to go out, map the market, identify the right talent for that client and that role, and then go out and effectively headhunt to find the best people for our client base. We do find it makes a really big difference. One candidate can easily achieve anywhere from 5-10 interviews if they wanted to, but equally that then allows that candidate to be selective about the firms that they would want to work for based on what they're looking for.

We're finding that it's particularly challenging within corporate areas to recruit lawyers currently and real estate. Those lawyers are still very, very busy, hardly having time to look up and see what options there are out there for them. Also very much the case that, within certain geographies, you will find trends where it's a lot more challenging. So for example, recruiting real estate lawyers on the south coast, very hard, recruiting corporate lawyers on the south coast, again, not easy at all. However, we move into markets such as the city and west end, you find that the talent is moving around a lot more freely.”


Within the Legal sector, the average recruitment lead time is seemingly higher than in other industries. There are steps that employers can take to reduce this, including acting fast and streamlining the interview process. From a candidate perspective, with less high calibre talent coming to market, the recruitment market is very much candidate-led. Offering candidates the opportunity to be selective about who they work for and what employee benefits they are willing to accept, such as flexible working and financial incentives.

Whether you are looking for your next Legal role or want to partner with a specialist recruitment agency to reduce your average time to hire, we have a team of specialist consultants at Search Legal. Get in touch with us today for a confidential discussion. 

For more exclusive Legal insights like this, download a free copy of our Salary & Benefits Guide for Professional Services.