Spring Awakening – In-House Market in 2017

The middle of March signals the ending of winter with numerous high profile events. There are iconic sporting occasions such as The Cheltenham Gold Cup and the final weekend of the Six Nations; St Patrick’s Day and the start of British Summer Time is only a whisker away – the clocks go forward an hour this weekend on Sunday 26th March. Verges and gardens become more colourful as daffodils start to bloom and thoughts turn to when Easter will fall – in 2017 it seems perfectly placed in mid-April.

Critically, mid-March offers a fairly accurate guide as to how a year is progressing in recruitment terms. I can’t believe it is 10 years since the craziest market ever of 2007 when it was at its zenith. Such a frenzied market is unlikely to ever return. This year has been steady with new opportunities, with some roles returning to market for the first time since late 2015 when the oil price collapsed. Oil price stability obviously affects numerous industries and not just those involved in extracting and selling it.

Hiring at the senior end still requires sign-off at the highest level – especially as an in-house lawyer is not a revenue generator, although a key indirect contributor to the bottom line that is often overlooked in numerous corporations.  So as ever there is rarely a fast turn-around on new roles.

Overall the market remains steady although sticky in parts. Most industrial and IT companies have been hiring due to the need to replace departing lawyers as opposed to major expansion. There seems to be a trend with quite a few in-house departments that I speak to wanting to expand and reduce expenditure on external law firms  – but something called ‘budgets’ and a CEO’s reluctance to sanction a large uplift in fixed costs with intangible returns makes sign-off very difficult! However, the bigger roles in London are often totally detached from the UK economy as London continues to be the administrative hub of choice for global corporations, hedge-funds and trading companies amongst others. The need to have board meetings overseas is simply a minor hindrance.

Since the start of March, I have noticed an extra zeal amongst clients to complete mandates before the natural slow-down for Easter when most of us choose to extend the Easter break and have two very short working weeks. Hiring clients have been 50/50 split between established blue chip corporations with large in-house teams and private or FTSE 250 companies; who generally have smaller in-house teams of 2-4 in-house lawyers.

Will that zeal continue with new roles in May onwards – we shall see? There is no doubt there are some good opportunities for very commercially focused lawyers looking to move whether between in-house roles or for mid-level Associates looking to make that first leap into industry.

Personally, I think 2017 is going to be a choppy ride rather like Brexit negotiations although, as we all know, forecasting is a risky business. Who would have predicted 9 months post-Brexit vote that the FTSE would be at an all-time high?  Those with big pension funds should be very happy…

Brian Littleton is head of In-house London & South at Chadwick Nott and has over 12 years legal recruitment/head-hunting experience in the in-house market. Please feel free to contact him on brianlittleton@chadwicknott.co.uk or Telephone  0203 096 4549.

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