The Shortage of Legal Candidates: Has it been fixed?

November 12, 2021

When it comes to legal recruitment, Chris Martin has seen his fair share of ups and downs! We caught up with him to chat through his thoughts about the shortage of legal candidates, and where the “missing middle” is sitting at. Has it been fixed, or is it getting worse? Check out his thoughts beneath!

One of the defining characteristics of recruiting in the New Zealand market is the shortage of candidates created by the “missing middle”. Before recruiting in professional services, I thought keeping your middle trim was a good thing!

In relation to the legal market this term refers to the shortage of Solicitors in New Zealand, specifically at the intermediate level or 3 to 6 years PQE. It is at this stage of their career that most NZ qualified Solicitors decide to go overseas, where they can earn more money, travel and gain sector experience.  Many consider this to be a rite of passage and a key part of building their CV.

However, COVID has now stopped this loss of talent walking out the door! Have we finally found the missing middle? I have been hearing stories of candidates who were working out their notice period just before COVID only to ask sheepishly if they can stay. Equally, some returned after a short absence; many of which have re-secured their old positions.

Several Practice Managers have explained that this has manifested itself with turnover being lower over the COVID period. This is great, but surely a threat for the industry as borders open and pent-up ambition to travel is realised through the market. Sure, for some, the extra time in NZ will have strengthened ties – but not for all.

DO WE NEED TO RESPOND TO THIS THREAT?

It is hard to know exactly what the full post Covid environment is going to look like and how long until full and wide-ranging travel is realistically an option again. There’s a few things worth considering however.

  1. An increase of movement for this middle section should be included in future planning.
  2. Holding slightly higher numbers of midlevel staff is an option.
  3. Considering retention strategies around promotional targets, bonuses or other milestones may slow departure.
  4. For many staff there is nothing that will stop them leaving for international exposure and, perhaps, no reason to try.

If you are a candidate thinking about moving – then this opportunity is not a threat at all.  It is exciting and you will be keeping a close eye on the developing situation. Having some turnover of staff may be to everyone’s advantage – employees less invested in a long-term career path will move on to gain international experience and could be a fantastic future resource.

So, what is hot in the legal Market right now?

Legal vacancies are following the trends in the broader New Zealand Market right now. Here is what I am seeing that is current hot in the market. (Oh, and, yes, this have taken a significant number of coffee meetings to investigate!)

EVERYONE IS BUSY

Despite border restrictions, we are currently seeing nearly all of our clients searching for additional staff! COVID for most Legal Practices has been a blip with levels of work quickly returning to normal and often higher than normal. It is great to see the industry thriving!

PROPERTY & COMMERCIAL MANAGER

We are seeing many vacancies being focused on Property focused positions and in particular Commercial Property.  The Property Market is hot right now and despite current efforts to change legislation around investors – commercial investment is at an all-time high.

TRUST FOCUSED POSITIONS

Interestingly, changes to the recent Trusts Act have caused some to question if trusts are still relevant.  The legal sector is this space has been very busy and several teams are looking to increase their capacity in this space – perhaps counter to predictions.

MIDLEVEL ROLES

Despite COVID causing low turnover for the middle ranks of firms we are still seeing most vacancies coming from the engine room of 4-6 years PQE.

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