5 positive indicators for in-house legal recruitment in 2018

Unprecedented changes facing the in-house legal sector is a topic we’ve covered before on the blog. Lawyers must cope with increased stakeholder expectations, new technologies disrupting entrenched processes and cost pressures that force them to do more with less money.


These changes emphasise how important in-house legal departments are to organisations, and not just for identifying and avoiding risk, but also as crucial business advisors that add value and support growth.


As the end of the first quarter of 2018 approaches, we’re already seeing a number of trends that have positive implications for in-house legal recruitment.


Here are some of the reasons why professionals within the sector can be optimistic about the year ahead based on results from our latest .

1. Recruitment activity increased last year

Nearly three-quarters of employers recruited or tried to recruit in-house lawyers in 2017, which was up from 68 per cent in the previous year.

Certain sectors have been more active than others, with 81 per cent of banking firms hiring, compared with 63 per cent of commerce and industry organisations.


In-house legal recruitment levels have remained healthy despite the initial shock of the EU referendum in 2016 and the resulting uncertainty over Brexit. Indeed, lawyers continue to be key players in guiding businesses through the UK’s separation from Europe.

2. Expansion driving 2018 recruitment 

Fewer in-house legal departments are hiring this year than in 2017. Of the employers we polled, 56 per cent claimed they would be increasing headcounts over the next 12 months, whereas 73 per cent recruited last year.


But the reasons businesses continue to hire are encouraging. More than half of organisations are advertising jobs because they are expanding their teams, compared with 33 per cent who are replacing exiting staff and 11 per cent seeking lawyers for project work.


Expansion hiring suggests a long-term focus on building bigger, stronger in-house legal departments, rather than simply maintaining the status quo or bringing in people to work on temporary initiatives.

3. Lawyers central to many projects 

Despite organisations claiming project work is not the key focus for current recruitment drives, lawyers are undeniably crucial to a number of ongoing regulatory preparations.

This is highlighted by the wide array of concerns that legal departments are addressing in 2018. The GDPR is obviously high on the agenda, with 23 per cent of in-house teams citing data protection as a worry.


However, 22 per cent are focusing on EU regulation and 17 per cent are spending time on FCA regulation. Advancing technology (13 per cent) and structural reform (seven per cent) are also priorities.



4. Brexit negotiations are showing progress

Our research revealed only eight per cent of in-house lawyers said Brexit was currently a key concern, even though 42 per cent confirmed the UK’s split from the EU was already affecting their workload.


This may be because many of the details surrounding the divorce are still uncertain, making it difficult for legal departments to prepare effectively. But progress is being made, and December saw the release of a joint statement where tentative agreements on key issues were confirmed.


As the March 2019 deadline looms, a greater sense of urgency is likely to hit employers – and lawyers already form an important part of many Brexit-focused teams.

5. Upward pressure on salaries 

Obviously, salary increases are more of a positive trend for candidates than employers. But upward pressure on remuneration merely emphasises the growing demand for highly qualified in-house lawyers in a competitive market.


Last year, salary expectations began to increase and we expect this pattern to continue in 2018, particularly given inflation rises. Lawyers who have experience dealing with regulatory or data protection matters can expect to wield the greatest influence when negotiating salary packages.


Our last salary and compensation reports showed 25 per cent of in-house lawyers said they received no pay increase in 2017. Some professionals may already be eyeing up career progression elsewhere if this trend continues and real income slumps.

Is now the time to switch jobs?

In-house legal recruitment is showing signs of strength in 2018, and while fewer departments intend to recruit this year, there are still significant opportunities for talented candidates.


If you would like to discuss how in-house legal recruitment trends may affect your business or career, please contact me on 0207 936 2601 or via email at rg@barclaysimpson.com. I’ll be happy to discuss your options with you.


Our Market Reports combine our review of the prevailing conditions in the corporate governance recruitment market with the results of our latest employer survey.


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