Who hasn't ever started the year wishing for a shiny new job? Or at the very least used the festive break to take stock of your working life and make a few promises for the year ahead? The start of 2021 may be a January like no other, but there are still opportunities out there and an enduring need for great talent. We asked two of our favourite recruitment gurus for their insights, ideas and the inside track on hiring new talent and getting hired.
Integration, marketability, and visibility.
The main challenges for those starting off their careers (whether that be junior lawyers, junior partners, or those embracing a new title, e.g. head of team, global head etc.) are integration, marketability and visibility. Onboarding yourself at a new firm or in a new position in this environment takes hard work.
For employers, a focus on pastoral support, a collaborative partnership and strong marketing team are key. Remote working brings benefits, but it does have its disadvantages when it is long term and conducted without proper adaptation. It's hard to get to know internal colleagues, stay front of mind, and knowing enough about your colleagues in other areas. That said, I've successfully lateralled some excellent senior lawyers during the pandemic thanks to clever and dynamic cross selling/internal marketing and an ambitious and entrepreneurial outlook.
More often than not, lawyers are valued for their relationships, networks, portability, and ultimately, profitability. This demands relationship building and the easiest way to do that is in person. So many lawyers are struggling with having to do this virtually - it's much less authentic and building rapport is harder. In such a virtual world, lawyers have to use virtual networking, conferences and seminars etc. to stay relevant, relatable, visible and well positioned.
Build a business case.
Law firms with buying power should be thinking ambitiously and boldly about strategic hires. I've engineered some very exciting moves in 2020 which happened because firms have made opportunistic, strategically important, market positioning moves. At a higher-level, law firms are becoming a lot more demanding of candidates' business cases and wanting more, by way of portability. Immediate profitability is high on law firms' agendas, and firms are rigorously stress testing the business cases provided.
Employers need to appreciate the degree of nervousness amongst candidates right now. A fear of being "last in first out" leaves many reluctant to move in a pandemic. At partner level, many have had to tolerate deferred bonuses, which can create issues when it comes to the timing of a move. Employers can't expect candidates, especially partners, to forfeit bonuses - be prepared to wait or factor the candidate's financial loss into their compensation package.
There's also a much greater demand for agile working, irrespective of personal circumstances. This pandemic has proved to everyone that this can be effective when managed properly and it's a benefit that candidates want and value. Firms must be better at offering it as a long-term solution whilst making sure their culture doesn't become too virtual and dystopian.
Seize the moment.
I firmly believe now is as good a time as any to move. In the private wealth world, we've been busier than ever with retained team and partner searches and we've placed many in the associate space too. There are a lot of senior level strategic team and partner hires happening, and the pace of work for most private wealth teams doesn't seem to be slowing down. Law firms are scrutinising senior lateral hires a lot more, and so if there's interest in a candidate, there will be very good reasons for it. Candidates should take comfort - the hire will more likely than not be viable and profitable. At associate level, if a firm needs more hands-on-deck, it simply signals how busy they are. There is no need for candidates to unduly worry about job security.
Location. Location. Location.
A lot of law firms are thinking about cutting down on office space, but slashing office costs to improve profitability seems a hasty response and something that could be very damaging to human capital. The very best candidates want to work for a firm with a solid and stable London presence. Visibility is key.
There's also a massive focus on Asia-Pac at the moment. Most leading private wealth teams are focusing on establishing or enhancing their presence in the region and Singapore seems the jurisdiction of choice for most at the moment. Firms that continue to expand and improve their international profiles and workflows in this region will do well at home and abroad.
I think that many firms will continue to keep an eye out for strategic quality laterals but will continue to take an understandably cautious approach. Law firms want more 'bang for their buck' - no bad thing for senior associates. Around 32% of all moves over the summer were non-partners moving into day 1 partner roles. Good senior non-partner candidates should be thinking about elevating their careers, future proofing their practice and raising their profiles as much as possible.
Junior candidates and those starting out in their career need to align themselves with someone important that will give them the support, training and supervision they need and is organised enough to manage doing it remotely. A lot of our senior candidates are struggling to manage their supervisory responsibilities virtually - clever, time smart, and talent focused solutions are needed to master this.
Senior candidates need to stay front of mind. Whether that's a senior associate waiting for their partner promotion or a junior solicitor proving themselves early on; I can't emphasise enough the importance of staying visible, relevant and profitable. Being able to demonstrate good billing and good financial hygiene is more important than ever, as is a dynamic marketing strategy and plan - USPs are more important now than ever.
Winners and losers.
The loss of the entire private wealth team at BCLP is a disaster - a really strong full-service private wealth offering very sadly dispersed. But, at the complete opposite end of the spectrum we saw other firms like Howard Kennedy invest in their already established private wealth group, Stewarts adding some heavy weight to their trust disputes group, Taylor Wessing absorbing a number of the BCLP team and, I've witnessed many of the boutiques hold their own because of how busy the private wealth market has been. A considerable portion of our retained work in 2020 came from the private wealth sector. Smaller firms with the challenger brands such as Raydens (the family law boutique) did a brilliant job of holding their own too, they continued to make a number of hires throughout the pandemic and continued to focus on their strategic growth.
I think a lesson for all of us has been the importance of wellbeing. Every one of us was tested to our limits this year. Juggling more balls than ever before and working and living in ways that we've never had to before. At a time when we're all feeling exhausted, drained, depleted…whatever you want to call it, we have to put our wellbeing first. This means putting firm boundaries in place. When candidates are concerned about financial performance and job security it's easy to fall in the trap of overworking. Overworking is also a lot easier when there's no clear start or end to your day, which happens for us all working from home. Private wealth lawyers (and in particular family lawyers) are very prone to burn out. Proper support, work capacity monitoring and utilisation are vital to ensure healthy, well-functioning, and strong teams. Law firms shouldn't underestimate the importance of this.
First and foremost, looking after our health is critical. Getting enough sleep. Exercising. Eating well and as hard as it can be prioritising health before wealth. Wellbeing has been critical to survival in 2020 and I hope we don't all abandon our focus on it once things (if things?) return to 'normal'.
On a more business level, I've also seen how hard work, grit and building loyal relationships from the very start really does pay. It's been a tough market for everyone, but resilience, honesty and creativity rarely get in the way of success regardless of how challenging a market might be. Those of my clients that performed the best in this pandemic were those that responded quickly and differently; those that were the most client service focused. Mimoza Fleur's approach was exactly the same. We tried to adapt quickly. We remained client and candidate focused throughout, and we never compromised on our values, which was remaining true to our specialisms and being selective about who we work with.
You can find out more about Somaya's work at www.mimozafleur.com
Raising the bar.
Clearly the main challenge for candidates is the lack of roles and clients having more choice. The bar gets raised for entry level candidates in times like these, and therefore applicants need to be extremely prepared for interviews. Read lots about a company, understand the management structure, read any latest press and think what you can bring to the role. When not interviewing? Well everyone has different thoughts, but I think it's best to keep busy and get any job you can until the right role comes along - it demonstrates a good work ethic, and you will always learn something through any work experience.
The other challenge people worry about is training when starting a new role remotely, but firms have got quite good at coping with this. What I worry about is the lack of learning through osmosis with a lack of office time, and what happens to all the small questions you'd ask in a day that you wouldn't on a video call.
A job well done.
When we look at the COVID era, we should all be incredibly proud at how well we overcame obstacles. Firms and interviewers have thrown themselves into video interviews, have shown real kindness and understanding that not everyone has access to great IT, and I think some brilliant conversations have taken place. If anything, it's made scheduling interviews easier and people don't need to spend an hour travelling to and from an interview venue. A code has developed too around dress with smart casual or a tie being the order of the day.
I don't think anything beats meeting in person, but video interviews as an initial screen will feature much more prominently moving forwards.
It's very important that candidates listen lots, work hard to let the other person finish their sentence (harder on video than in person), and to remember to smile and look friendly. What hasn't changed is we all want to work with nice people! Equally employers need to remember that they aren't hiring a tv presenter and that video doesn't suit everyone and so you really need to stay disciplined to focus on skills.
I've been in recruitment for 20 years and the one thing I'd like to scream from the rooftops is that if people hire in times like these they are serious! Leaders don't just hire on a whim; they mostly take a long-term view. So if you're headhunted now, I'd take the call. In a years' time the world will look very different and if you've put the hard work in during your first year, you'll reap the benefits of the upturn.
Keep on adapting.
I hope things get better from now on. The vaccine will give us a route to exiting lockdowns and the second half of 2021 could be very good - I doubt we've seen the end of various governments' stimulus. What's changing next year? Well I think managers will need to get better at managing remotely. Teamwork will always be important, but remote teams work differently, it's harder to pick up on a colleague who's struggling if they're working at home.
More junior staff may not get as much facetime with senior colleagues (I think hybrid working will be the model for most) and so they will need to work harder to get noticed and they will also need to be more vocal about needing training and help.
Those who will fare the best in these times are the most adaptable, who understand that there will be lots of changes of direction as circumstances change.
Successes are many: the migration of enormous amounts of employees to home working without any glitches, due diligence being conducted remotely and large pitches being won on Zoom, financial services firms having some great results (even if aided by reduced costs), people putting on excellent online events and rapidly improving their digital presence - these initiatives will stick.
It would be unfair in many ways to call out the disasters, because we're dealing with something this year we've never really dealt with before. Comparisons to Spanish flu and the 1968 flu are wrong, as the world is a different place technologically, politically, and financially. The political confusion at times hasn't helped anyone, but who'd want to make those decisions? Perhaps some managers have felt the need to over manage whilst working remotely, but we've all made mistakes this year and I think it's best to focus on the positives.
Communication!If there's one word I'd use to sum up what I've learned it's "communication". I've tried really hard to communicate with my team, people have reached out to help each other and to find ways to do business, we need to speak more about the effect this year has had on mental health. So the key thing I'm taking from this year is to keep "communication".
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