Advice for NQs in an unprecedented market

22 Apr, 2020

Advice for NQs in an unprecedented market

The ongoing coronavirus pandemic has caused law firms across the UK to take measures that were previously unthought of. Naturally this has led to great levels of uncertainty that will likely have repercussions for those at all levels of their legal careers and, perhaps in particular, those due to qualify as solicitors this year.

For the most part March and April qualifiers have not been negatively affected, with many firms adapting to the crisis with virtual onboarding processes. While it is currently difficult to predict what the legal jobs market will look like in September and beyond, we wanted to take the opportunity to offer some insight and advice.

Here we are at the back end of April and lockdown has just been extended for another three weeks. The hope is that after this period of time we will all be able to return to some semblance of normality, although it’s likely that social distancing and working from home will continue beyond May and June. How will this affect trainees approaching qualification later this year? Well, all indicators are that job lists have been delayed until mid-May at the earliest and in some cases – where trainees have been furloughed  – qualification might be delayed by two months.

These two factors are potentially problematic, but we would first advise you not to panic. We can only control what we can influence ourselves and this unprecedented event requires us all to accept what we cannot change.  While all firms will likely do their best to retain all or as many as their trainees as possible, it might be that you need to look elsewhere for an NQ role later in the year.

With that in mind, it would be best not to put all of your eggs in one basket. It’s highly likely that your first choice would be to stay with your current firm on qualification but the best opportunity for you may be somewhere else. Unfortunately, there may not be a position in your preferred team when qualification comes. That is not to say you should apply anywhere and everywhere, but it’s worth exploring and considering roles available at your current firm and others. If nothing else, it will help you make an informed decision when it comes to taking the next step in your career.

Transactional areas of law such as Commercial Property and Corporate are likely to be less busy in the coming months and therefore it is less likely that there will be NQ roles in these areas later in the year. With that in mind, if you were focusing on becoming a transactional lawyer, it is worth considering Plan B. If you cannot secure a role in your first choice of discipline, of your other seats which would come next? That is not to say that you should settle for second best of course but being prepared and having that back up plan will allow you to approach your job search with confidence and it will give you options to choose from rather than picking from one single tree.

Thinking back to the financial crisis in 2009, it was the trainees that were most prepared to be flexible and consider a variety of options that were most successful in continuing their legal careers. Unfortunately many that rigidly stuck to their original preferences did not secure a role and many left the profession.

Along those lines, as well as having a contingency plan regarding your area of law it is also worth considering options regarding location and the type of firm. Neither of these are particularly easy at the best of times but keep in mind that the legal jobs market throughout the UK will offer varied opportunities at fantastic practices across the country.

Think about the work you want to do, the clients you want to work with, and what you want to achieve. Can you do this where you are? If so, that’s fantastic. If not, keep an open mind about other legal centres. Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds, Bristol, Nottingham are all cities in which some of the very best work is undertaken and some of the very best career opportunities can be found with local, regional, national and international law firms.

Searching for a job whether you are an NQ, an Associate or a Partner is stressful, and things may not always go according to plan. In these very uncertain times this even more likely to be the case.

As experienced legal recruiters we speak to lawyers at all levels and across all disciplines every day. We are here to help you, to advise you and to guide you. This will pass. Things will get better, just as they have after previous recessions. Nonetheless preparation and an open minded and positive attitude will help you make the right decisions at a crucial time in your career in the months ahead.

For more information please do not hesitate to get in touch.

Joe Gregory