Law 2021 Review: Eversheds Sutherland busiest recruiter as UK legal vacancies hit all-time high

Jan 25, 2022 | Legal, News

  • Legal jobs double compared to 2020, 35% up on pre-pandemic levels
  • Eversheds Sutherland publishes most private practice vacancies
  • Technology, media and telecoms most in demand specialisms in law firms
  • Banks lead in-house hiring in finance sector, energy/utilities in commerce and industry

Legal vacancies at law firms and businesses reached record levels in 2021 as many companies sought additional legal expertise to navigate a second consecutive year of economic uncertainty in the United Kingdom.

According to a new report by legal recruiters BCL Legal and data analytics firm Vacancysoft,  legal vacancies grew by 99.8% year-on-year in 2021 across England and Wales. New jobs hit a quarterly peak in Q2 2021, when companies published nearly 2,800 new jobs for lawyers. This represented a 521.7% rise compared to the same quarter a year earlier, and a 36% jump compared to Q2 2019.

Private practice hiring finished 112% up year-on-year, with leading law firms  recording an average of three-to-four times more vacancies. Eversheds Sutherland topped the table of vacancies by volume, experiencing a 253.6% year-on-year rise in new jobs. Recruitment at Pinsent Masons grew the fastest, with the firm recording 562.5% more new jobs compared to 2020.

Top 10 law firms, total legal vacancies, England & Wales, 2020-2021

  2020 2021 YOY
Eversheds Sutherland 56 198 253.6%
DAC Beachcroft 68 163 139.7%
TLT 38 129 239.5%
DWF 56 123 119.6%
Clifford Chance 25 122 388.0%
Addleshaw Goddard 43 111 158.1%
Mills & Reeve 52 109 109.6%
Pinsent Masons 16 106 562.5%
Simmons & Simmons 70 103 47.1%
Shoosmiths 47 90 91.5%

Mary Nowell, BCL Legal, Managing Director, said: “Last year was unprecedented in the legal recruitment sector. In all regional markets and almost all disciplines, demand outstripped supply and firms were left to revise recruitment strategies to attract new talent, while also ensuring they retained talent to avoid further exacerbating the problem. It was a perfect storm; increasing work levels, flexible working policies emerging at most law firms and an increasingly mobile workforce adding pressure on almost all talent pools.”

North West closes gap, real estate practice area most in demand

As a proportion of all new private practice jobs, vacancies in London fell by six percentage points to account for 31% of all hiring in law firms in Q4 2021. Recruitment in the North held steady in absolute terms in 2021, but increased its share of all private practice vacancies to account for 29% of all vacancies — closing the gap between London.

The most sought after practice areas for these new private practice jobs was real estate, with volumes up 138%. At 282% year-on-year, hiring for legal TMT specialists grew the fastest. Hiring for LDR experts was the most subdued, with law firms publishing 50% more vacancies compared to 2020.

Banks lead in-house hiring within finance, recruitment for fintech lawyers stalls

Legal vacancies in financial services increased by 100% in 2021 compared to 2020. The second quarter saw the most new jobs for lawyers in the industry, the 425 vacancies representing an 83.2% increase on 2019. London accounted for the greatest share, a proportion that grew 12 percentage points from 68% to 80%.

Banking accounts for the most new vacancies, with hiring levels up 111% year-on-year. Recruitment for lawyers in accounting and consulting is up 65.5%, while legal jobs in insurance rose by 45%. Legal jobs at fintechs fell by 4.5% year-on-year.

Tech firms recorded most new legal vacancies; energy/utilities with fastest growth

Overall legal vacancies in commerce and industry in England and Wales finished 2021 up 78% year-on-year, reaching their highest quarterly level in Q4 2021. London remains the primary point for new jobs for lawyers in these sectors, accounting for 61% of all roles by the close of the year. 

The technology sector continues to be the largest employer of legal specialists, widening the gap in the number of vacancies between it and retail and consumer goods and services. Tech firms published over 800 legal vacancies in 2021, representing a 90% year-on-year rise. However, the largest rise in demand for lawyers was in energy and utilities, where firms operating in this sector recorded 94% more vacancies compared to 2020.

Mary Nowell continued: “Remuneration also hit an all time high with all PQE brackets benefiting from significant salary inflation. This looks set to continue during 2022 fuelled by a continuing supply and demand crisis within candidate pools in the city and regions. 

“A big question for large regional teams will be how to stem the flow of talent to the city where remuneration is significantly higher. As the UK looks set to remove existing restrictions, 2022 looks set to be a busy year for the sector.”

  • The data for this article is taken from an annual review of the legal labour market produced by Vacancysoft and BCL Legal. Read it here.

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