Opinion | 11-12-14

The changing demands of the interim legal market in law firms

It is no secret that the interim market has grown rapidly over recent years in London. More and more law firms are looking to increase their manpower at short notice and this has led to a continuingly changing market with shifting demand. In this article, SSQ Interim Solutions consultant Edwin Cawthron outlines where the market is busy and predicts where it might go next. 


As the interim market has matured over recent years in the UK, we have seen law firms utilising interim lawyers at a more strategic level. Following the economic crash, many law firms reduced the number of trainee solicitors that they retained on qualification, largely because, in a number of areas, such as corporate and real estate, there wasn’t enough work to justify increasing the team.  


Consequently as the economy has recovered, many firms have had gaps at the lower PQE levels and they have looked to hire interim lawyers at short notice in order to cope with the uptick in work. We are therefore seeing an increase in the number of interim opportunities at the 2-5 years’ PQE level. Law firms are sticking much more stringently to the experience brackets and contracts are getting longer. This is excellent news for candidates at this level, as the interim market has been opened up for them like never before. In the past many firms were concerned at taking on contract lawyers at the more junior level because it was important for interims to be able to “hit the ground running” and be able to move projects forward quickly. 


We have also seen law firms hiring newly qualified (NQ) lawyers on an interim basis for the first time. With the gaps in firms’ associate teams outlined above and there being a limited pool of candidates at those specific PQE brackets, firms are seeking alternative resource. NQs with strong academic qualifications, who have served a productive traineeship but have not necessarily been able to secure a role, are attractive to firms where there is an immediate need. Again, this is a real benefit to these junior lawyers. It allows them to gain experience and working on a contract basis gives them experience in different firms before they secure or decide on a firm with which to continue their career permanently.  


Demand through 2014 in general has been changeable. Earlier this year there was a huge surge in demand for document review lawyers, but as the year has progressed we have seen this need tail off and there has been an upturn in the number of general disputes positions. Positions on the transactional corporate and banking front have also increased, with more opportunities available in corporate and associated areas such as tax as well as real estate finance. Real estate has been particularly busy since the start of the year and we have continued demand from an array of clients from the top 100 UK law firms and leading US practices. 


After a busy year, we expect the interim market to continue to thrive in 2015. As more and more high quality lawyers choose this career path, more firms than ever are utilising this talent to fill gaps in their workforce. Transactional practices areas (corporate and real estate predominantly) will continue to be busy in 2015, with lawyers at the NQ-5 years’ PQE being in particular demand. 


To discuss the law firm interim market in more detail or to hear more about our current opportunities please contact Edwin Cawthron on  +44 (0)20 7187 7445 or via email [email protected]