As part of the series of insights around our 2023 Legal Salary Survey, we have analysed the current UK hiring market to understand the trends, challenges and opportunities for the year ahead. Read on for our UK market insights and overview.
When analysing the UK legal professional market, the breakdown of gender diversity shows that 69% of the legal workforce is female versus 31% male. While at a glance this data indicates that the legal industry is a female-dominated sphere, the breakdown of data could also indicate that the bulk of the positions being taken up by women is at the junior level, whilst the more senior positions are being held and retained by men. It is unclear whether this is because, at the junior level, talent attraction and education have made the industry more attractive to women, or whether senior promotions are being given to male counterparts who have had more years of experience in what has typically been a male-dominated industry. It appears likely that the gender balance within senior positions in the legal sector will soon become more evenly weighted in the years ahead, and all signs point towards the sector moving in this direction. The current median tenure for professionals in the legal industry of 1.1 years is a surprising statistic, but reflects the buoyancy of the current market and the high demand for talent in the industry which, coupled with massively inflated salaries, is leading to a lot of chop and change.
Which companies are employing this talent?
Whilst all the companies in the top 10 are seeing growth, bar Eversheds Sutherland who have seen 0% growth and 30% attrition, the attrition rate in the top 10 is generally high. As candidate priorities change and people begin looking for different benefits, and whilst salaries are inflated due to increased demand in the market, most legal professionals are likely in a position where they can obtain a higher salary should they wish to. Particularly in times when the cost-of-living crisis is playing on everyone’s minds and there is the risk of a recession looming, it is unsurprising that attraction levels are high. Firms must continue to expect their staff to be tempted to make a career move if they cannot offer a competitive salary and benefits package.
|Government Legal Department||718 (8% increase)|
|DWF||464 (12% increase)|
|Irwin Mitchell||427 (6% increase)|
|DAC Beachcroft LLP||425 (5% increase)|
|Clyde & Co||391 (38% increase)|
|DLA Piper||361 (5% increase)|
|Linklaters||332 (3% increase)|
|Eversheds Sutherland||319 (0% increase)|
|Addleshaw Goddard||316 (14% increase)|
|Crown Prosecution Service||310 (14% increase)|
Unsurprisingly, London remains the dominant location for legal professionals within the UK, but also has a slower rate of increase than anywhere else in the top 10. This could indicate that London is no longer the definitive place for legal professionals, as the quality of work is improving in other areas in the UK, and work-life balance has become a higher priority. This is reflected in the increasing popularity and demand for professionals in areas outside of London, and salaries appear to be increasing in these areas because of this. The North in particular is seeing high demand for professionals, ranging from ‘very high’ to ‘high’. Manchester, Leeds, and Birmingham are the 3 most popular regions outside of London. The locations which are showing the fastest rate of growth are Cardiff and Birmingham, followed by Bristol and Liverpool, showing a move away from the biggest 3 locations for legal professionals.
|LOCATION||PROFESSIONALS||JOB POSTS||HIRING DEMAND|
|London Area||26,326 (3% increase)||1,044||Very high|
|Manchester Area||3,614 (5% increase)||246||Very high|
|Greater Leeds Area||2,187 (3% increase)||185||High|
|Birmingham||1,468 (7% increase)||127||Very high|
|Greater Liverpool Area||1,432 (6% increase)||52||High|
|Greater Bristol Area||1,231 (6% increase)||61||Very high|
|Greater Glasgow Area||1,155 (5% increase)||48||Low|
|Greater Edinburgh Area||1,047 (3% increase)||48||Moderate|
|Greater Cardiff Area||915 (9% increase)||23||Moderate|
|Greater Sheffield Area||837 (4% increase)||56||Moderate|
What are the fastest-growing titles in the market?
In terms of the growth of roles in the market, the growth of senior and director-level roles is most interesting; in particular, the role of Legal Director is a role that is becoming increasingly popular and has seen significant growth. This could perhaps indicate that firms are looking to hire experienced professionals to steer and guide their workforce through unpredictable times.
As we can see in the table below, the top role that dominates the market is Paralegal (20,107), followed by Lawyer (14,690). That the role of Lawyer has grown by only 1% could indicate that, while the most junior and senior positions within the sector are seeing growth, the number of professionals moving into mid-level legal roles has remained relatively stable.
Notably, we have also seen a huge increase (308%) year on year in Summer Legal Interns, and the number of professionals in the market with the title of ‘Legal Intern’ is the second highest on the leaderboard within the top 10 growing titles nationwide. This could indicate a heavier reliance on junior and entry-level professionals to plug the gaps as recruitment of lawyers becomes increasingly challenging; or, equally, this could be indicative of a push from universities to aid law students in gaining more vocational experience.
It’s equally worth bearing in mind that, given the impact of the pandemic, there will be a significant skills gap as a result of the lack of training contracts in the disrupted pandemic years. As such, there will be a period where there simply won’t be any lawyers to recruit who have the required level of experience, and therefore this will result in a skills shortage for firms.
|TITLES||1 YEAR GROWTH||PROFESSIONALS|
|Legal Secretary||1% decrease||11,961|
|Legal Specialist||2% increase||5,817|
|Legal Director||9% increase||4,317|
|Senior Lawyer||4% increase||2,858|
|Legal Intern||8% increase||1,171|
|Senior Paralegal||8% increase||956|
|Corporate Lawyer||1% increase||663|
|Associate Lawyer||3% decrease||533|
Which institutions are producing this talent?
Whilst the most prestigious institutions for students to qualify in law continue to dominate the professional market, it is interesting to consider whether London losing its dominant position, as discussed above, is having an impact on graduates’ decisions on location. Legal professionals who are graduating from institutions such as the University of Bristol, the University of Cambridge, and the University of Oxford may no longer feel the immediate need to move to London which may have been viewed as the sole or standard option previously.
|The University of Law||5,387|
|BPP Law School||3,651|
|University of Oxford||1,300|
|University of Cambridge||1,096|
|CILEX Law School||1,047|
|King’s College London||1,016|
|University of Bristol||872|
|Queen Mary University of London||856|
|Nottingham Trent University||833|
With the hiring market showing no sign of slowing down, the next 12 months are set to be just as busy as the previous ones have been. But, with the shortage of talent continuing to impact ability to hire, firms need to consider their offering and the value they can provide to potential new hires who are spoiled for choice of opportunities.