The changing face of the Market & the war on Legal Talent in Northern Ireland

The war on talent has been well documented over the last number of years especially in relation to the shortage of skills in the ICT, Engineering and Finance sectors and salary increases have been reported as a result.

The annual Hays salary guide 2020 found that the average salary in Northern Ireland had increased 2.4 per cent, slightly above the average rise of 1.8 per cent registered across the UK and up on the two per cent jump locally in the same survey a year ago.[1] The Northern Irish market appears to have been hit particularly hard compared to the UK with ‘80 per cent of employers reported that they have found it difficult to recruit permanent staff over the past 12 months and 60 per cent found it hard to recruit temporary workers, above the UK employer averages of 69 per cent and 45 per cent respectively’ according to the survey.

The sector which has received the least press attention however is Legal. Our clients in the Commercial Law firms are suffering from what appears to be a perfect storm with regards to talent shortages culminating from; the lack of training contracts awarded during the economic downturn, higher salaries being paid in Dublin as well as across the water and an increase in competitors. According to Invest NI

Legal services is one of the fastest growing sectors in Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland boasts over 500 local law firms, 2300 solicitors and 600 barristers and QCs. Our legal talent pool includes an annual surplus of some 600 law graduates as well as an experienced cadre of professionals who are keen to return and re-locate to the region. Sharing a regulatory framework and company law regime with England and Wales, Northern Ireland is a proven location of choice for international legal services.’[2]

Invest NI

The traditional, smaller Private Practice Law Firms continue to make up a significant portion of the legal market in Northern Ireland but now larger national and international Firms are making an impact. There has been a steady rise in recent times of ‘big name’ Law Firms settling in Belfast either via acquisition or being completely new entrants to the market. In addition, Alternative Legal Services Providers (ALSPs) continue to grow at rapid rates and they are beginning to demand talent from the local recruitment market.

Due to the lack of available or ‘on the market’ candidates locally, we have found that quite often we are targeting returners to fill these in demand vacancies. The market trends show that these Legal Professionals who grow up or train in Northern Ireland before moving further afield, do tend to return eventually as they discover that the market here is vibrant and the opportunity is endless. There’s also the draw of the education system for those that have families that are of school age as according to recent surveys 13 out of 100 top UK schools are in Northern Ireland[3]. Many of our clients and candidates cite the cost effective education as a draw factor in addition to many other benefit related to the cost of living.

Law Firms here are winning over big business, working on top quality transactions and have varied workloads. Salary levels for Private Practice and In-House Lawyers has also increased in the last few years with ‘raises of between 2-6%’[4] across key practice areas. We find that more and more the overall benefits package, flexible working opportunities and company culture that a Firm can offer is of significance to candidates and so much so that it can make or break a deal. Northern Irish Firms have recognised this and have made a conscious effort to offer more in terms of an overall package.

At HNH Human Capital we work with an array of top legal clients across various sizes and practice areas to help them recruit the best legal talent in the market and fulfil their professional requirements and business demands. Legal candidates are now in more demand than ever across a variety of practice areas including Corporate Law, Real Estate/Commercial Property, Commercial Litigation and Banking & Finance.

If you are currently based in Northern Ireland and seeking a change or are perhaps interested in making a move home, please check out our live jobs at https://hnhhumancapital.com/latest-jobs/ or contact Legal Recruitment Consultant Rebecca Conwell at rebecca@hnhhumancapital.com or via telephone on 02890278155.


[1] https://www.irishnews.com/business/2019/11/20/news/skills-shortages-in-northern-ireland-drives-up-salaries-new-research-suggests-1769997/

[2] https://www.investni.com/invest-in-northern-ireland/professional-and-legal-services.html

[3] https://www.belfastlive.co.uk/news/belfast-news/sunday-times-parent-power-2018-13955043

[4] https://cdn.brightwaterni.com/docs/default-source/surveys/salary-survey/2020/brightwater-salary-survey-analysis-2020—legal.pdf?sfvrsn=55f28376_2