21 Mar The Melbourne Q/A Express: Conversations with candidates

21 March 2018

After a successful and busy trip to Melbourne last week, we spoke with numerous candidates about the market, roles, skills and a myriad of other topics. We thought you too might find this of interest so we pulled together our notes and summarised the key questions (and answers) that came up during our conversations. Click here to read about our conversations with clients.

How is the job market at the moment? I feel like Melbourne has been a bit quiet over the past few months. From around October last year, the legal market across Melbourne and Sydney slowed considerably. However, certain sectors such as engineering remained strong with consistently high recruitment activity and a shortage of good candidates. There has been increased activity across all areas of professional services over the past three weeks with many firms discussing their hiring requirements and future plans.

How open are BD Directors in meeting people with my skillset? This depends on the firm and your skill-set! BD Directors are mostly interested in senior professionals who bring something new, such as client facing relationship development experience or relevant industry knowledge from outside professional services, if this aligns with their target market(s). For more junior candidates, BD Directors will be as equally interested in your attitude, cultural fit and willingness to roll up your sleeves, with enthusiasm to take on more strategic responsibilities over time. Proactivity and stakeholder engagement skills are key at all levels.

Can you introduce me to some of the BD teams you know who would be interested in my skills? Speculative introductions can be quite successful and we often make proactive approaches to selected BD teams at the request of the candidate, if we feel that there is a strong cultural alignment. This is always done on a no-names basis (no CVs) to ensure complete discretion and only to firms whom we have a strong relationship. We recommend exercising caution when giving a recruiter permission to proactively ‘introduce you’ to a firm; ensure your CV and name is not disclosed at any time, and try to understand if they genuinely have a strong relationship with the firm. The last thing you want is your CV being spread across the market; this instantly dilutes your personal brand and locks you in to using that recruiter for 12-months with each firm, which means you could miss out on roles that are with other agencies.

Are you seeing law firms hire more specialised marketing people? Yes, and we have placed specialist senior marketers with a range of law firms, not just the largest firms in the market. Many of these candidates come from highly sophisticated marketing functions (mostly outside law) where they have driven creative multi-channel campaigns that influence and create cut-through. Professionals in the big four marketing functions are of particular interest to law firms.

What are the opportunities like for more senior BD people moving out of legal? Quite a few from the big four, to engineering, financial services, education, insurance and consulting. Transferrable roles tend to be within pursuits, marketing and advisory. For example, engineering firms see real value in candidates with legal experience, particularly in bidding and pursuits. We are also seeing senior candidates make the successful move to consulting where they set up their own business and consult back into legal firms.

The legal market has changed a lot in the past 10 years since I have been overseas; can you chat me through the key developments? At a firm level, the legal sector has undergone multiple mergers and alliance formations, and there is further consolidation to come. The resulting disruption, along with increased competition from international entrants, has driven significant change within BD and marketing functions. Australia is now home to the most sophisticated BD functions in law firms globally, followed by the UK. Firms now seek proactive, consultative and commercial business developers who can create and pursue successful client strategies to deepen relationships and grow market share. Roles are more specialised, client focused and demand industry experience to further understand client businesses.

I know that a manager role in one firm is quite different to a manager in another firm. Can you briefly explain how they differ across firms? Some firms allocate titles based on experience and longevity within the firm, i.e. you can be a manager without managing people. Other firms only offer manager titles to those with people management responsibility. There are no rules or industry standard, so avoid deciding on a role based on the title alone. Consider factors such as the role responsibilities, how many partners you are working with, the reporting line(s), opportunities to get involved in other and firm-wide projects, strategic vs. operational tasks and career progression (e.g. team management, special projects).

I think I would like to move into a broader BD role because there isn’t much growth in my bids role. What are your thoughts on where I can go and could you please explain what a BD-role looks like? Bids experience is highly valued by professional services firms and some BD-roles have a significant tender responsibility. In BD, you will also get involved in broader business planning, opportunity spotting, key client account management, marketing campaigns, events, thought leadership, special projects, fee earner coaching, among many other ad hoc tasks. There will be some familiarity in moving into a BD-role as you will be running bids, however you will also grow your experience in all other areas while further broadening your experience across the firm.

I’ve never thought about legal as an industry for my next move; do I need to have a legal qualification to work in BD in legal? No. A marketing, commerce or similar qualification will suffice. Your relevant experience and attitude are the most important elements, especially if you can bring new ideas across from other industries. You will need demonstrable strength in stakeholder management, resilience, a client centric mindset, genuine curiosity, and a will to understand the full lifecycle of legal advice. Working with such intellectual experts such as lawyers can be extremely rewarding and challenging, in a good way!

Do you think a stint in Asia will help me progress my career more quickly? Not necessarily. If you are taking a step up in seniority e.g. becoming a Head Of for the first time and joining a global firm with a sophisticated BD function, then Asia can offer career enhancement. However, many roles in Asia are reactive, highly operational and revolve around tenders and event management. This experience won’t excite large and sophisticated law firms in Australia, however there isn’t a one size fits all rule.