Resilience and Innovation: Reflecting on Ireland's Adaptive Legal Jobs Market in 2023

In the dynamic landscape of Ireland’s legal sector, the legal recruitment market mirrors the ongoing shifts and demands within the legal profession. Our end-of-year review examines the trends, challenges, and transformative undercurrents shaping the legal jobs market in Ireland in 2023. We analyse shifts in the newly qualified solicitor recruitment cycle, the high demand for specialised mid-level solicitors, and the intricate dynamics shaping partner recruitment. We also examine how the refining of the candidate experience, fostering robust employer branding, and leveraging strategic remuneration tactics underscore the proactive stance of the legal sector in attracting and retaining top talent.

Newly Qualified Solicitor Recruitment
The recruitment cycle for newly qualified (NQ) solicitors in Ireland typically runs from October to April, often impacted by the health of the London legal job market. When the London market thrives, law firms in Dublin, Cork, Galway, and Belfast experience talent migration at NQ-level to City firms, resulting in a subsequent surge of NQ-level positions in Ireland. In the 2022/3 cycle, there was a less active London NQ recruitment market, leading to reduced NQ recruitment in Ireland. The outlook for the 2023/4 Irish NQ market remains uncertain. Some of Ireland’s major law firms seem to be delaying decisions on lateral NQ hires until the New Year. This delay will allow firms to finalise their internal NQ hiring processes and gain clarity on whether there might be an NQ talent shift to London before making these critical hiring decisions.

Mid-Level Solicitor Recruitment
Solicitors with 2-5 years’ post-qualification experience (PQE) have been the most highly sought after within Ireland's legal landscape throughout 2023. The skill sets in highest demand have been M&A, Tax, Funds, and Tech. M&A retains its predominant position on the recruitment agendas of many commercial law firms in Ireland, a noteworthy trend considering the slowdown in the exodus of M&A and tech law talent to in-house roles and London observed this year. The other areas of law which have seen solid levels of recruitment activity the 2-5 PQE range this year are property, construction, energy, all areas of banking and financial services, and employment law.

Partner Recruitment

The partner recruitment landscape serves as a valuable bellwether of Ireland's legal job market. Over the past 18 months, the high levels of partner recruitment have been driven by three primary factors:
  1. Domestic Irish law firms reactivating the strategic partnership growth plans which had been paused for 2020 and 2021;
  2. New entrant global law firms establishing/expanding their partner bench in Ireland;
  3. The ripple effect created by new entrant firms poaching talent from established teams, which then seek to replace those departing partners through external hires.
The most sought after skills at partner level in 2023 have been M&A, Tech, and Financial Services. There have also been opportunities in employment law, competition law, litigation, and tax. Partner recruitment in Ireland thrives on a dual approach encompassing opportunistic hiring and strategic headhunting. In both instances, law firms often consider exceptional senior associates who have the potential to seamlessly transition into influential partner-level roles.

Candidate Experience Optimisation
In the fiercely competitive legal recruitment market, fostering a positive employer brand, cultivating a strong company culture, and delivering an exceptional candidate experience are crucial differentiators for law firms and companies. Nature of the work, team structure, career prospects, team and company culture, work/life balance, remote working arrangements, remuneration, employer reputation, and team brand are all factors which candidates will seek to understand as part of the recruitment and interview process. Additionally, providing clear, timely interview feedback and ensuring a positive and engaging interview experience play pivotal roles in shaping positive candidate outcomes. Effective recruitment strategies strive to optimise the candidate experience, ensuring individuals feel enthused about the job while being equipped with ample information to make well-informed decisions.  

Remuneration Strategies
There is limited evidence indicating salary differentiation in Ireland based on practice areas. However, firms tend to offer higher salaries to lateral hires where their department is less established or where the firm isn't considered a top choice in that specific practice area. The six largest law firms in Ireland generally follow a lockstep pay system, typically up to around six years' PQE. Conversely, mid-tier and international firms exhibit less rigid adherence to a lockstep pay structure which can translate into laterals achieving an above average salary on joining. Signing bonuses have emerged as a prevalent feature in the Irish legal job market, providing law firms with an efficient means of incentivising new hires without disrupting internal salary structures. The size and utilisation of signing bonuses are influenced by factors such as years of PQE, demand for a specific practice area, firm profitability, and the individual qualities of the candidate.

The legal job market in Ireland for 2023 adapted in response to various internal and external forces. As the year progressed, solicitor recruitment at different experience levels showcased evolving trends, from the nuanced shifts in newly qualified solicitor hiring to the persistent demand for mid-level solicitors. The partner recruitment remained buoyant, reflecting the strategic movements within the legal industry. Fostering a positive employer brand, flexible work cultures, and competitive compensation, including signing bonuses, emerged as key factors in attracting top legal talent. The year's legal recruitment trends and challenges reflect an increasingly agile legal profession, positioning itself for the future with resilience and innovation.

If you would like further detail on the legal jobs market in Ireland, please contact Bryan Durkan via LinkedIn, 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.