How has Partner Recruitment been affected by the Pandemic?

Following the initial interruption in recruitment globally during the initial phase of the pandemic, which would have caused many to relive the woes of the crash in 2008, the London Partner Market actually boasts much positivity.  The statistics regarding the number of partner hires and areas within which leading UK and US firms have been recruiting, appear to be very encouraging, even in 2020 when the shock of lockdown hit the big city.

From a bespoke report, created by Legal Monitor and Jameson Legal, which focuses on specific leading UK and US Law Firms in London, the figures show that during the first six months of 2021 there were 180 hires in London by these firms. This compares to 165 in 2020, 168 hires in 2019 and 159 in 2018, but is below the 200 hires made in 2017.  It is fair to conclude that 2020 was not ‘hit hard’ by the distress caused by COVID.  Rather, it appears that the volume of hires was suppressed and the market has been playing catch-up up in 2021, which is evidenced by the hiring trends in the first half of 2021.  This provides much optimism for 2022 as it is fair to guesstimate that partner recruitment will now move into the inside lane and we can expect the market to be very busy indeed. To delve deeper into the roots of the reasons behind the uplift in the requirement of more senior lawyers, we must take note of the report in the Financial Times detailing the record breaking $500bn worth of private equity deals in the first half of 2021; a figure previously unsurpassed for 40 years.  KPMG predicts that the global M&A market could hit $6 trillion by then end of the year.  What law firms and legal recruiters alike have additionally seen as a consequence, is a boost in the requirement of hiring into ancillary areas, particularly disputes, real estate and tax.  Not to mention that the pandemic has, unfortunately, had a negative impact on many businesses which has, fortunately, created much work in the restructuring/insolvency area for lawyers and subsequently, headhunters.

The opportunities created in the market as a consequence of COVID

The world has inevitably changed with more firms being open to flexible and home working, generally speaking.  This mindset within law firms was already upon us with companies wishing to accommodate female lawyers coming back from maternity leave and also, make provisions for a more adaptable path to partnership or indeed maintaining an existing career at the top level.  The various lockdowns and mechanisms put in place to help people resume to ‘normal’ working has allowed for more part-time partner roles and a working from home structure.  The added benefit has been for all parents to have the opportunity to mould their working lives to be able to tend to their children.  This has connected home lives to working lives in a way previously unseen in the corporate world and allowed for a greater variety of opportunities for candidates who would have otherwise been at a loss.  The emergence and success of the newer digital law firms has opened more avenues for senior lawyers to essentially be masters of their own destinies.  The proven ability of lawyers to carry on their business and perhaps enhance their practices during the lockdowns has prudently produced increased self-confidence and in addition, the visibility to join one of these innovative platforms. Many partners have claimed the transition to a profit-share platform be a smooth one in terms of client following and moreover, their personal working patterns.

The untrodden path

Essentially, the previously untrodden paths in home-working and breadth of opportunities should allow partners, who are contemplating a move in the next two years, to feel more open-minded towards what their lives could look like.  Whilst the platform is important there is a larger argument in favour of the individual concerned and the client relationships that partners have been able to have more control over.     Our view is that the pandemic has created opportunities that would not have otherwise existed and partners who are willing to take the leap into a different platform, whether it be a conventional law firm or a digital one, could have a career that they would not have otherwise imagined.