In 2023 at Heat Legal we have seen a huge decline in Corporate M&A hires across the board…
The decline is not confined just to London but is apparent in the whole of the UK, and not just in certain firms: whether it’s US, International, West End, or Boutique, the difference in demand compared to the hiring frenzy we saw amid the pandemic is truly astonishing.
This steep reduction in appetite to hire legal talent in M&A is on par with the lack of real estate opportunities, and I am sorry to say that the hardest hit as a result of this has been NQs and the junior level up to around 3PQE. Whilst there does still seem to be a simmering requirement for senior associate-level corporate lawyers in London, this is only the case with a handful of firms.
Many consider this downturn to be largely due to tight financial conditions globally. High interest rates, inflation, trade issues, cost of living crisis, and the situation in Ukraine have all played their part in creating an environment where sourcing financing is increasingly tedious and difficult, and much more stringent regulations have also added to an increased lack of confidence and willingness to move forwards in the merger and acquisition space.
With that being said, corporate M&A legal teams are not completely dead and there is definitely work to be done, but it is understandable that many firms are focusing on utilisation as much as they can rather than increasing headcount in a bid to keep lawyers busy with the work they have, whilst also being particularly careful not to over-hire in such a fluctuating and turbulent period.
Sadly, some firms did over-hire, and subsequently, redundancies have been made. It’s not great to see and I am personally working hard to help as many candidates in this unfortunate situation as I can, but I always feared that this situation was going to be inevitable given the sheer insanity of corporate M&A hiring demand that we’ve witnessed these past few years.
Corporate M&A falls under one of my specialisms, and like many agents I’m keen to get back to more legal recruitment in this space as soon as possible! So I’m pleased to report that M&A is expected to make a comeback in 2024. For all those candidates waiting and hoping for it to pick up, I do want to stress I anticipate it will likely be towards the latter part of 2024 that things gain momentum but once things pick up and the taps turn on, we will be back in full swing with levels in 2025 comparable to 2021/2022.