Having specialised my recruitment efforts on the Belfast legal market, I have gained an in-depth knowledge of the sector and, in this blog, I am going to explore what makes the market unique and the challenges and opportunities available there.
I’ve always been attracted to the Belfast legal market due to my heritage (it’s no coincidence my name is Kean! And, if I took my mother’s maiden name, it would be Kean Furey!). Prior to entering this market, I was aware that it was going to be challenging but, to me, this made the prospect more exciting! Following a great deal of learning and research, I am now highly-skilled and experienced at recruiting for Associates in Belfast, across various specialisms, including employment, corporate, construction and media law.
Insights into the Belfast Market – A Vibrant Pool
Initially my search was narrow, recruiting for firms that we already had a close working relationship with. In doing this and scouting the market, I became aware of the bounty of talent Belfast has to offer. There is a vast array of very able Lawyers from corporate law generalists working for global giants, to niche defamation specialists working for small yet hyper-successful boutiques. This vast collection of skills naturally led me to broaden my horizon and recruit across a wide-range of legal services, establishing connections with firms outside of Interlink’s initial network.
With all this talent and opportunity in Belfast, it was a mystery that it is not considered one of the most attractive regional legal hubs in the UK – why is this so?
Really Understanding the Market
To better understand the requirements of firms and learn why Belfast is not considered one of the most attractive regional legal hubs, I engaged in many conversations with people in the industry. One poignant factor kept on cropping up – remuneration. Belfast Lawyers are some of the lowest remunerated in the regional UK markets.
The Talent is All Local
Whether or not we feel comfortable saying it, remuneration is a salient factor in what drives people to a firm or a role. As Belfast remuneration is low, the talent is typically only there due to their association with the area; it’s where they grew up and where their family and friends live, so they have a strong affinity to the locale. When lateral moves take place in Belfast, it’s rarely a move from a candidate based outside of Belfast or Northern Ireland. However, this is not the case with other UK regional hubs. You see Solicitors moving from Manchester to Bristol, Bristol to Leeds, Leeds to Birmingham, for the opportunities which are presented there and not due to an association to the chosen city. Having local talent is good in many ways as this can be very helpful in dealing with local clientele. However, only having local talent is problematic.
Belfast is Expanding
Only having locally born Lawyers limits the pool of candidates, in turn restricting the capacity for growth. Belfast has been expanding, with many leading English firms and international firms setting up offices there and expanding already existing services. However, these growth activities will reach a ceiling when the talent pool is exhausted.
Although the remuneration is not at the same levels as other regional UK legal hubs, this is changing. There is an increasing interest in both business and Belfast more generally, meaning that law firms, among others, are prepared to provide more lucrative salaries to secure the best Lawyers. This is something that I have experienced in recent placements in the area, with feedback from candidates expressing that their new payment package is considerably higher than what they earnt previously.
If interest and growth continues in the same way, the capital of Northern Ireland will be on the same footing if not higher than the regional leaders, such as Manchester, Leeds or Bristol. However, this is contingent on the talent going there, which is not currently the case. This is a massive misfortune as Belfast and the law firms there can provide the best training, development and career progression. Not just for legal skills but also additional skills, such as commercial knowledge, management and business development. If Belfast can be considered by any prospect outside of Northern Ireland for one thing, it’s the ideal location to establish your career in your chosen practice area, with great firms and leaders in the field. If you like the Northern Irish accent, that’s a perk too!
Kean Smith specialises in helping junior to mid-level Solicitors find new roles across Belfast.
If you are considering a move, or would like more information about the opportunities available to you, send Kean an email at: email@example.com