With the imminent arrival of price transparency and the need to highlight an expert staff and superior services, the importance of retaining skilled talent has never been more vital.
Recent surveys suggest that there is a shortage of candidates looking to take up a career as a conveyancer. Furthermore, there is a growing skills gap developing in many areas of law including Wills and Probate.
With this in mind, it is unsurprising that recent roundtable events have identified employing and retaining skilled workers as one of the main obstacles to company development.
Why is the legal profession facing this employment crisis and how will things develop in the future?
The famously fierce competition for training contracts, the two year period that a law graduate must spend with a law firm or equivalent before qualifying as a solicitor, may hold part of the answer.
With around 5,000 training contracts typically available and hundreds of applicants for each spot (given the 15,000 students graduating from law school each year) it’s understandable that applicants may be put off by the seemingly unfavourable odds.
The Instsitute of Fiscal Studies have said that the average student debt for a student is now £50,800. The added expense of additional training and legal courses could be decisive in encouraging the younger generation to opt for alternative careers.
Although there are options for apprenticeships that could provide a free way to learn and train, limited places will not stimulate the growth in numbers that the industry may need.
Price transparency will encourage law firms to highlight the skills, expertise and service that their firm will offer a potential client. Many worry that using new and inexperienced legal service professionals may prevent their firm from acquiring new business. The desire to retain skilled staff is therefore driving up salaries that could prevent the firm from spending more on additional, less experienced staff.
Managing director of the firm, Lynn Sedgwick said: “Law firms are really in a difficult position. On the one hand, the demand for property experts exceeds supply, which inevitably pushes up salaries as candidates who specialise in that area can ask for more.
“The lack of experienced candidates poses a genuine challenge. Our clients tell us that they are not simply looking for law graduates – they need solicitors with skills developed in real-world situations. Qualifications are impressive, but commercial know-how and the ability to think outside of the box is far more valuable to firms.
“Pay is always going to be an issue for solicitors, as it is for anyone in employment. 66% of firms offer flexible working, second only to pension contributions as the most popular benefit offered. This shows that an enjoyable work culture is key to holding onto the top legal talent as well as more traditional rewards.”
According to the report, ‘Solving the UK Skills Shortage,’ 65% of law firms are concerned that Brexit will seriously diminish the skilled workers available.
Almost a quarter of businesses believe that Brexit will prevent Britain from competing on a global stage with 50% anxious that Brexit will worsen the skills shortage in the legal sector.
David Clift, HR Director, totaljobs comments: “As we head closer towards Brexit employers will have to think differently about how they attract and retain the best talent from across the globe. For current staff, training will be key to closing any skills gaps, and giving employees the confidence that the businesses they work for can help them fulfil their career ambitions.
“When it comes to attracting staff, employers will have to look to different industries to find the transferable skills that are essential to grow. This means that there will be more opportunities for skilled candidates to use their knowledge and experience in different sectors, providing them with new challenges and opportunities in industries that they may not have considered before.
“Shortages are likely to be particularly severe at the junior and mid-management, partly due to the long-term impact of the 2008 financial crisis, when levels of graduate recruitment fell sharply.
“Employers looking to find long-term solutions to the current skills shortage should focus on engaging with and informing graduates and university students of the opportunities available in their industry.”
As wages for experienced and specialised staff increase, fewer new professionals are entering the sector and Brexit is creating a huge speed bump, how are legal companies compensating for the skilled worker shortfall?
The report indicates that 28% of legal service firms are targeting professionals from other fields who can transfer their skills. This could allow a firm to redeploy their staff strategically, so they can focus on improving their experience and expertise in a particular branch of law.
Others have looked at new professionals as the solution with 49% using internal training to ensure new staff improve their skills, experience and expertise.
48% believe that work placements are the answer in adding to the talent pool, moulding staff into expert specialists in the process. 48% also believe that the solution involves a clear collaboration between legal firms and universities, ensuring that areas of law requiring more expertise and focused on in more detail.
Has you firm struggled to retain experienced staff? Have you found it difficult to recruit talented new professionals? Do you find that your clients are expecting and demanding more experienced staff? What is the solution for the legal profession?