Law Jobs Ireland: Key Trends in the Mid-Level Solicitor Jobs Market in 2023

Solicitors in the 2-5 PQE range are the most in demand legal candidates in Ireland in 2023. Here we explore some of the key recruitment trends at this level, as well as the recurring candidate motivations we encounter with solicitors in the 2-5 PQE range looking to transition to a new job.

The legal jobs market was intensely busy in 2022 across the private practice and in-house sectors. This was driven by a combination of recruitment catch up (from 2020 and 2021), domestic law firms reengaging their growth plans, new entrant law firms establishing and growing operations in Ireland, and a consistently busy in-house jobs market up to the start of Q4.

The legal jobs market in the first half of 2023 has been busy with plenty of options for solicitors in the 2-5 PQE range seeking a career move, however recruitment activity has been at a more sustainable level than in 2022. The slowdown in in-house legal recruitment in Q4 2022 in Ireland has rolled into 2023 and in addition, the London legal recruitment market has not been as busy as in previous years. Both of these factors have contributed to the rebalancing of the legal jobs market in Ireland this year. This rebalancing has allowed both law firms and companies to adopt a more strategic and less reactive approaching to hiring. Equally it has enabled solicitors to better identify the perfect new job with less recruitment white noise. Our expectation is that market will continue as is for the second half of 2023 with demand for talent in practice higher than in-house. The in-house market will pick up again, though that uptick may not happen until 2024.

The most in-demand skills at associate solicitor level in Ireland year to date are M&A, Tax, Funds, and Tech. In spite of a reduced brain drain of M&A talent to in-house/London year on year, M&A continues to dominate the recruitment agenda for many of Ireland’s commercial law firms. Irish M&A levels have held up well in the first half of 2023 (down 10%) compared with global deals in the US$100+ million range (down 37%). The reduction in deal flow at the US$100+ million range will provide respite for solicitors working long hours in Dublin's top M&A teams. It is often during lulls in deal flow that overworked M&A lawyers in those teams cast an eye to opportunities in the mid-tier firms. There has been more demand in 2023 than in 2022 for mid-level solicitors in the property and construction arena, as well as across all areas of banking and finance. The Government has set ambitious wind energy targets for 2030, and we expect an increase in the number of solicitor jobs in energy law and related fields (property, construction, environment and planning, finance) this year and beyond.

Many of the candidates with whom we work move jobs because they have plateaued, because they have been with their current employer 3+ years, or simply because they want a fresh start and a new challenge. The top priorities we encounter with candidates seeking a private practice move are; money, work/life balance, people/team, interesting work, and expedited career progression. For candidates exploring an in-house move the top priorities we encounter are; work/life balance, people/team, interesting work, commercial exposure to the business, and a move away from billing. In 2020 Kennedy Wilson chief executive Bill McMorrow dismissed the idea that remote working would replace the traditional office in the future. On a first quarter earnings call with analysts in May of that year, McMurrow commented that while there would be “extended discussions” in relation to remote working, he added that “over the long term, it’s not really going to amount to anything”. Workers however are clear on their preference, and flexibility/hybrid working is taken as a given now by solicitors exploring move.

Recruitment and employment levels are a key indicator of the overall health of the Irish economy. As of June 2023 unemployment dropped to 3.8% (the lowest level of unemployment since records began), versus the EU rate of 5.9% (May 2023) and the Eurozone rate of 6.5% (May 2023). 102,700 jobs were created in Ireland in the year to Q1 2023. Interestingly, the regions have driven this jobs growth and employment outside of Dublin increased by 79,700 in the year to Q1 2023. Tax receipts continue to exceed expectations and Ireland continues to perform well in an unpredictable global geopolitical environment. Exactly ten years ago in June 2013, the unemployment rate in Ireland stood at 13.3% and employment opportunities for solicitors were limited. Notwithstanding Brexit, a global pandemic, and a war on the European continent, the Irish economy has recovered remarkably over the last decade. A well-managed economy, stable government, and the rule of law have had -  and will continue to have, a profound impact on employment levels in Ireland.

The war for talent is a is a headache for law firms and companies seeking to recruit. However what this means for ambitious candidates looking for a fresh start and a new challenge, is more choice, more competitive pay, and more flexibility. If you would like further detail on the legal jobs market in Ireland, please contact Bryan Durkan via LinkedIn/Bryan Durkan, email or direct dial +353 1 9602121. All conversations with, and applications through Spencer Lennox are strictly confidential. Follow Spencer Lennox on LinkedIn for regular updates on legal recruitment in Ireland.