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Overview of the legal recruitment market in Europe

Posted by: Laurence Simons 19/04/13

In-house legal recruitment in France

It appears that the legal recruitment market in France has bounced back since the downturn in 2009, although perhaps not to the same level of activity. There has been a mixture of both replacement hires and new role creation with 40% indicating they had experienced headcount growth in 2012 and 38% stating their teams remained the same size as 2011.

Lawyers at the mid to senior level have been most sought after by organisations and where candidates from other European jurisdictions have been considered, French language skills remain a prerequisite. Candidates with seven to ten years PQE with general / corporate expertise will remain in high demand in 2013 - however sourcing talent at this level may prove challenging as candidates are in short supply. On the more senior end of the market (10 plus years PQE) there appears to be a sharp increase of lawyers seeking new opportunities.

The IT / technology sector has been particularly active in 2012 and this is anticipated to continue into 2013 with the life sciences sector also looking set to perform well.

Remuneration in France remained fairly static during the course of 2012, although for 30% of lawyers considering a new role in 2013, an increase of between 16% and 20% is what they would deem acceptable. Two thirds of all legal professionals in France received a bonus in 2012, with 49% receiving the same level year on year and 64% indicating they were satisfied with this level. For the most part, bonuses vary from company to company and are very much discretionary. Salary levels in 2013 should remain fairly constant with the odd increase dependant on the sector and the level of the candidate.

Private Practice legal recruitment in France

Demand in 2012 remained consistent across all sectors in Paris, from corporate and finance through to dispute resolution, IP/IT, tax and employment; although recruitment levels are yet to return to those achieved in the past. International firms proceeded with caution when recruiting in 2012 with a tendency towards consolidating teams. An increase in movement at the partner level has emerged due to new entrants from the Anglo-Saxon world and boutique firms being set up by lawyers leaving international law firms.

Growth within emerging markets has also led to an increased demand for candidates from project finance, energy and infrastructure backgrounds. A particularly exciting emerging market is Africa and recruitment for this region is often handled by firms based in Paris.

The compensation data is a representation of remuneration paid by law firms in Paris, predominantly made up of data from the 50 largest firms. Lawyers at smaller firms in Paris and law firms throughout the rest of France are likely to notice some discrepancies in compensation, which can typically be between 10% and 20% lower. Compensation in Paris tends to be tiered, with US firms paying the highest compensation, UK firms following and national firms paying the least. However, there are exceptions and in some cases lawyers at French firms can receive US practice salary levels. For many firms bonus levels have remained stagnant since 2008 and in some cases have not been paid at all.

You can find out more on this subject in the Laurence Simons Paris Private Practice Salary Survey. Request your copy at

In-house legal recruitment in Italy

Italy experienced moderate levels of legal recruitment in 2012, with 42% of Italian based organisations experiencing headcount growth although for the largest proportion (44%) only 1 additional lawyer was hired.

As a result of private practice firms looking to reduce costs due to a drop in business or difficulty in getting their fees paid, it is no surprise that there has been an influx of senior lawyers looking to make a move in-house. This trend is likely to continue in 2013 with 11% of lawyers working in law firms indicating they would be looking to move in-house. The life sciences sector has been more resilient than other industries and candidates with experience in this area have found themselves well placed when seeking a new job. Due to the turmoil in the banking and financial services space, predictably lawyers within this sector have been looking to make a move. Due to the government’s recent spending review within the healthcare sector, organisations in this field have sought to hire in-house lawyers in order to reduce the amount spent on outside counsel. Multinationals across the board have focused on employing a strong legal counsel to head up their law departments in an effort to bridge cultural gaps and better understand local legislation.

Remuneration in Italy has remained for the most part unchanged with some senior level lawyers seeing a slight decrease in pay. Despite this trend, 66% of lawyers in Italy received a bonus in 2012 with just under a third (31%) receiving a bonus of between 10% and 19% of their basic salary. 45% indicated there was no movement in their bonus year on year. However, 43% did in fact see a rise in bonus and overall 72% were satisfied with their bonuses. Compensation levels in 2013 are expected to remain flat. With an abundance of candidates looking for new roles, organisations will be spoilt for choice and will therefore hold the negotiating power.

Private Practice legal recruitment in Italy

2012 was by no means an easy year for those within private practice, with few firms looking to increase fee-earner headcount in Milan or Rome, and many limiting the path to partnership. As a result of these limitations, there was an increase in lawyers looking to set up their own law firms (or boutique firms with likeminded individuals) resulting in the private practice arena becoming increasingly fragmented. On the associates side, there was a general level of caution when considering a move due to the unstable nature of the economy.

Accordingly, private practice salaries in Italy stayed fairly flat. In many cases, particularly within small to medium sized Italian firms, there have been reasonable decreases in salary levels for associates. For those considering a move in 2013, remuneration expectations will need to be managed as over a quarter (27%) will be expecting a pay rise of between 11% and 15%.

In-house legal recruitment in Spain

As the Eurozone crisis played out in 2012, the Spanish economy was perhaps one of the hardest hit in Europe. Recruitment was extremely stagnant with only a third of organisations experiencing headcount growth in 2012. 29% underwent redundancies and 37% saw headcount remain at the same level as 2011. Where additional hires were made, this was for the most part limited to replacement hires and 44% indicated that their teams only grew by one further lawyer. This is not surprising as a quarter of hiring managers stated their biggest recruitment challenge in 2012 was budget constraints.

Unfortunately, 2013 is painting a similar picture with 52% of legal departments expecting no headcount growth at all, 6% expecting redundancies and only 37% anticipating between one and five additional hires.

On a more positive note, 77% of lawyers in Spain indicated that they received a bonus in 2012 with 43% of lawyers receiving between 10% and 19% of their basic salary. Salaries remained at 2011 levels in 2012 with many lawyers moving into 2013 at remuneration levels well below the industry standard. For the 21% of lawyers who will actively be looking for a new role in 2013, 31% indicated they would be looking for an increase in salary of between 16% and 20% although it is unlikely that this will be realised.

There are still rather challenging times ahead of Spain which is further substantiated in the opinions of lawyers in the region, with 73% feeling pessimistic about the future of the economy.

Private Practice legal recruitment in Spain

With unemployment at a record high of 20% and real market concerns about whether the Spanish economy will require further bailout funds, it is unlikely that the situation will improve in 2013.

Salary levels remained largely static throughout 2012, following a general decline in 2011. Remuneration for lawyers in Spain is now amongst the lowest in Europe and, unfortunately for those in the market, it is likely to remain so for some time to come. It is not surprising that 96% of lawyers in Spain would consider relocating for a suitable role although only 4% made the move in 2012, demonstrating how difficult it is to relocate and find work in other countries.

In-house legal recruitment in Benelux

The Benelux regions experienced slightly higher levels of legal recruitment in 2012 in comparison to 2011 despite the uncertain nature of the economy. Healthy hiring levels were seen particularly in Luxembourg, where 22% of legal departments hired six additional lawyers in 2012. Almost a third of in-house teams in the Netherlands hired one additional lawyer and this is expected to rise in 2013 to around 37%, with legal departments looking to add between one and five lawyers to their teams. Despite 31% of legal departments in Belgium hiring on average two additional lawyers, 63% of organisations in the country do not expect to hire in 2013.

Salary levels stayed fairly constant year on year with a few uplifts being experienced at the mid to senior level. On average 69% of lawyers across the three countries received a bonus with the median bonus level sitting at between 11% and 19% of basic salary. Despite the performance of all three economies, 90% of lawyers would still consider relocating internationally for an appropriate role and interestingly, 20% of those working in Luxembourg relocated in 2012. Organisations looking to hire in other countries but experiencing difficulty in sourcing the right talent could certainly consider the Benelux region to attract candidates.

Private Practice legal recruitment in Benelux

The Benelux region, with only around 27 million inhabitants but a combined GDP of over US$1trillion, has one of the highest standards of living in the world. All three areas faired relatively well in 2012 compared to the rest of the EU, with economic growth ranging from around 1% in Amsterdam to roughly 3% in Luxembourg.

Although the legal markets grew across the board in each country in 2012, competition law was the strongest area of growth in Brussels, funds in Luxembourg and corporate / finance in Amsterdam (which is now rated the fourth best city in which to do business in the EU behind London, Paris and Frankfurt).

Unsurprisingly, salaries remained fairly strong in the Benelux region although no significant increases were experienced. Salary levels in these regions still lag somewhat behind France and Germany although the general cost of living is lower. Various firms have adopted more attractive bonus schemes to attract and retain talent.

In-house legal recruitment in Germany

In-house legal departments in Germany experienced growth in 2012 albeit cautious growth. 45% of companies indicated that they made additional hires, with 22% employing on average two new lawyers.

Industries that were particularly buoyant and hired German lawyers in 2012 were high-tech, manufacturing, engineering and healthcare. For non-German lawyers, areas such as banking and finance, M&A, private equity and venture capital were all attractive options as these organisations sought to hire candidates with English language skills.

Remuneration levels in 2012 were relatively unchanging although moving into 2013, candidates will be seeking higher levels of pay. Of the German based lawyers looking for a new role in 2013, 29% will be expecting an increase in salary of between 16% and 20%. Bonuses were strong in 2012 with two thirds of lawyers in Germany indicating they received a bonus and just over a third specifying the level was between 11% and 19% of their basic salary.

Legal recruitment levels should strengthen in 2013 with a third of organisations expecting to hire between one and five lawyers, although this is very dependent on the Eurozone crisis and how it unfolds. Despite the resilient nature of the German economy in 2012, 31% feel pessimistic about the future, which could explain why 88% of lawyers in Germany would consider relocating internationally for a suitably attractive position.

Private Practice legal recruitment in Germany

Unlike the rest of the European economies, the German market continued to build on a relatively strong end to 2011 with consistent, if not stratospheric, growth in 2012. In response to increased demand, law firms used 2012 to diversify into key practice areas, making their practices more resilient should the global economy continue in a stagnant fashion.

Salaries remain strong at all levels, with some lawyers at the junior to mid-level in leading international law firms earning more than their counterparts in London. This is unsurprising, not least because of the stronger economy in Germany, but also because German lawyers on average tend to be better educated at this level (with most having an LLM and / or a doctorate in Law).

In-house legal recruitment in Switzerland

The legal recruitment market in Switzerland can be categorised by a mixture of outlooks, with 14% of legal departments stating their company had reduced headcount in 2012 and 49% having experienced headcount growth. In some instances hiring freezes have been put in place, which could explain the 36% of legal departments which saw the size of their legal teams remain the same. For those organisations that did experience headcount growth in 2012, the highest proportion (30%) hired only two additional lawyers. The life sciences sector remains buoyant with many biotechnology, pharmaceutical and medical devices companies setting up their headquarters or regional offices in Switzerland.

Despite the increase in roles within life sciences, a short supply of appropriate talent exists in Switzerland and in circumstances where suitable candidates are available in other European countries, some would not consider relocation.

Lawyers with compliance and regulatory experience are in high demand across the Swiss region as companies look to reinforce this function and limit risk. 62% of legal departments in Switzerland currently include the compliance role as part of their legal division and only 28% have compliance as a standalone function. 59% of compliance professionals currently working within Swiss in-house legal departments come from a law background and 64% of companies specified this to be a preference.

Compensation has remained fairly static for the more senior lawyers, however for those at the junior to mid-level, salaries have decreased slightly due to slow movement in the market. The strength of the Swiss Franc has meant that some multinationals have considered positioning roles in other countries where costs are lower.

Although the Swiss market is anticipated to slow down slightly in 2013, the life sciences industry is likely to go from strength to strength. Candidates with strong commercial skills, a strategic outlook, a proactive approach and a genuine ability to act as a business partner will be well placed in 2013 and will hold strong negotiating power when looking for a new role.

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