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The Qualification Season 2019: Market Overview

25th February 2019

This is the first blog in this year’s series “The Qualification Season”, dealing with issues faced by trainees looking to qualify as solicitors in Leeds, Manchester, Sheffield and surrounding areas in September 2019.  Hopefully, over the next few months you will find our assessment of the market and the advice we provide trainee solicitors useful and informative.

How is it looking in 2019?

The all-important question, before firms and particular departments look to recruit or retain trainee solicitors, is how the market and their key industries are operating.

With confidence high in business and property development, the past five or six years have seen a real sea change in the legal market, most notably with transactional areas such as banking, corporate, commercial, construction and real estate becoming much busier and more actively recruiting.  Whilst the recession may seem a long time ago (and most of you will have still been in school or university), you will see various references to it throughout this document as it is important to understand its impact on the makeup of teams and law firms around the regions.

Obviously, there was the small matter of the June 2016 referendum where the UK public voted to leave the European Union.  Swatting aside the media scaremongering and ‘expert analysis’ (on both sides of the argument), nobody simply knows what the effect of exiting the EU will be.  Even now, in January 2019, as we edge closer to the scheduled 29 March date of withdrawal, we may have to wait some time for both the positive and negative impact of the exit to be seen.

Although many aspects of EU law are expected to remain in our legal system, heavily EU governed areas such as employment law and intellectual property law could see those lawyers being kept incredibly busy in the coming years!  Certain law firms have seen (and are expecting) an increase in utilisation across contentious areas, whilst it is unknown how transactional areas such as corporate and real estate will be affected.  At the moment, a lot of those teams are very busy and are still recruiting heavily.  This is no doubt based on the pipeline of work as well as careful consultation with firm clients.  It is also absolutely vital to note that some firms will be affected (positively or negatively) less than others – smaller or mid-tier firms are likely to have very different client-bases operating in different or predominantly domestic markets to the larger firms, although the value of the Pound will affect firms large and small.

Fortunately, after the initial hysteria (both public and within certain professional services practices), the markets settled down and law firms in the main returned to business as usual, albeit always assessing developments regarding the inevitable exit.  Consequently, as it stands and looks to stand for the short-to-medium term, most firms are still seeing high utilisation in key areas, including corporate and real estate.  It comes as no surprise, therefore, that firms are still keen to recruit in those transactional areas.  For now, as an industry, we have to proceed as we were, keeping an eye on Brexit but not being consumed by it in the damaging way certain analysts would advocate.

With that in mind, let’s start by looking at the disciplines trainee solicitors most commonly want to qualify into and we will provide you with, firstly, our assessment of how the current market is in that particular specialism; secondly, what that area is like as a career option; and finally, what impact this will have on your opportunities to qualify as a solicitor in September 2019.

Given our comments above, we will keep specific comments regarding Brexit to a minimum, but each discipline analysis should be read with the general message above in mind.