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Benelux market overview: In-house trends and advice for 2014

Posted by: Laurence Simons 15/05/14

Overview

After a challenging couple of years, the ice is beginning to thaw in the Benelux legal in-house recruitment market. We’re currently noticing a rising tide in areas such as intellectual property, healthcare, pharmaceuticals and compliance; the latter mainly regarding anti-bribery, anti-corruption and anti-trust. There’s a growing need for positions that promote business development, mainly sales departments, and therefore both In-house and private practice lawyers (who wish to work in-house) must demonstrate a commercial attitude.

As of last year, we have noticed an increased demand for In-house legal professionals, with organisations once again seeing the commercial benefit of bulking up their legal teams. Our 2014 salary survey identified that 30% of legal and compliance professionals saw an increase in headcount in 2013 and 25% expect further increases this year.

We’re noticing considerable activity in several keys areas in the Benelux market:

Compliance

Companies are becoming more aware of compliance needs and are hiring dedicated compliance professionals with a legal background. Indeed, our salary survey showed that 43% of respondents in the Benelux region saw compliance as part of the legal department. In addition, 40% of respondents said their compliance professionals had a legal background.
Compared to other business functions, compliance is a relatively new area of expertise. Therefore compliance specialists must prove they add value by working autonomously before being able to justify hiring additional team members. Although we regularly see compliance integrated into the legal function, increasingly compliance professionals are being segregated from legal functions, as ‘wearing two hats’ can cause problems within organisations.

Demand for strong candidates

Candidates with very strong academic and professional backgrounds remain in high demand with our clients. With the gravitas and the ability to influence at all levels,  these candidates are typically from top-tier firms and/or multinationals and boast solid client development skills.

Approach with caution

Candidates are maintaining their cautious approach when considering new roles, wanting to be sure the organisation will offer enough challenges for them to develop. Our salary survey identified the top three reasons for candidates leaving their last position as: wanting a new challenge/more interesting work (14%); a lack of progression opportunities in the current role (10%) and enhanced career prospects (8%). Candidates also want reassurance that they are not simply being brought on to reduce the costs of hiring external counsels.

Lateral Movement 

We’re noticing candidates are becoming more and more flexible when faced with horizontal career opportunities. Clients are also keen on hiring horizontal candidates who will hit the ground running, rather than investing in having them trained for a couple of months before they are able to deliver. It’s a win-win situation for client and candidate. Our salary survey found that 22% of lawyers in the Benelux region were looking for a new role in 2014.

While it is understandable that some candidates prefer to move forward with organisations that demonstrate a willingness to invest in their people, applicants cannot be too picky, given the state of the market, especially for junior and mid-level lawyers.

When education and previous experience are similar between applicants, the winning candidate is often the one who can make a case for fitting into the culture of the organisation. They need to be driven and excited by the current challenges on the table. Companies need to be convinced that the candidate can be successful within their existing organisation structure.