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

21 March 2018

After a successful and busy trip to Melbourne last week, we spoke with numerous clients 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 candidates.

What is generally happening across the market? There is quite a lot of activity across Australia with Sydney currently being the dominant market for roles. Surprisingly, more than 50% of our work is coming from outside the legal industry; engineering, insurance, education and accounting have been strong over the past 6-months. For legal, the Christmas lag continued until March, however activity in the sector has now picked up significantly. Popular roles right now are in pursuits, client management, marketing and communications. There is still a shortage of good Adviser-level candidates in legal firms and strong practice group BD Managers.

What type of roles are other legal firms recruiting? Firms continue to compete for good Advisers across the East Coast. Practice group BD Managers are still difficult to find, especially those with a more strategic focus. We are also seeing an increase in Marketing Manager roles and sector-focused BD roles in top-tier legal. There is also a steady flow of maternity leave contracts at the BD Manager level.

Why is it so difficult to recruit at the Adviser level? Is it us or is it difficult across the market? With up to four years’ experience, Advisers have choice. They can move outside legal to try something else, and many do, or the good ones are placed on a career development path to Manager within their current firm. This makes it difficult to source good Advisers who can influence at the partner level and have experience running pitches end-to-end.

Where are good candidates coming from? I feel like not many people are interested in moving into (or staying in) legal; is that right? Yes, that is right to an extent, however we are seeing more people interested in moving into legal from industries such as IT, healthcare, financial services and accounting. There has also been an increase in Partners from accounting moving into legal, resulting in changes on the BD-side. Those who are moving outside legal have either been in the industry for a while and are after a change, Adviser-level professionals who want to experience something else, or other professionals who have moved into legal and quickly moved out again.

What is happening at Senior BD Manager and Client Manager levels across Australia? Senior BD Manager roles tend to be sector specific or complex practice specific (e.g. Corporate/M&A) and firms are now investing more in these specialised roles. Accounting firms are continuing to look to legal for strong Client Managers and given their size, usually have one manager looking after one global client. In legal, some firms have dedicated client teams that sit alongside the BD team. These Client Managers are usually more senior and manage a small portfolio of clients. However, many legal firms still have practice-group BD professionals with client account responsibilities. These people find it difficult to be a true client specialist as they are generally caught up with practice group tasks.

Vicky, why did you make the move across to recruitment from BD? I enjoyed 10 years’ in BD but was ready for a change. I love the industry, the work and the people so I didn’t want to venture too far. I’ve known Charles for a while and he was ready to grow the business. As someone who enjoys helping people, I thought it would be a great match. The other advantage is that I have done most of the roles I am now placing; this helps enormously and really differentiates us in the market.

How are the main legal firms ranked in terms of attractiveness to BD and marketing professionals and where do we sit? Every candidate has different wants and needs; not all candidates want to work in a top-tier or large firm these days. On balance, from what we hear, Herbert Smith Freehills, Allens and King & Wood Mallesons remain as top three on candidates’ wish lists. Gilbert + Tobin and Corrs Chambers Westgarth are competing very strongly against the ‘big six’ and are highly attractive firms to many candidates seeking to join a progressive and sophisticated BD function. Firms such as Lander & Rogers are also closing the gap, particularly when it comes to balancing work life and high performance.

It seems that Australia is quite sophisticated in terms of BD teams, how does this compare to the UK and the rest of the world? This is spot on; Australia is slightly ahead in terms of sophistication compared to the UK and is miles ahead of the rest of the world. BD in Asia for example is still quite operational; things are changing and roles are definitely becoming more strategic, but it takes a while.

It is clear that the big four are growing out their legal functions; do you hear about how successful they are in competing against law firms? We do actually. PwC Legal is going from strength to strength and KPMG is also ramping things up in their Australian offices.

How are other firms tackling the growth in pitching? There has been a considerable increase in the amount of pitching across the board, driven by strong competition in the market and clients’ desire for choice and to reduce cost. Pitching in engineering has dramatically increased and firms have invested heavily in bids and pursuits teams that sit within business lines. Other firms, mostly law firms, are bringing back the centralised ‘tender team’ who are tasked with managing pitches across the firm. These roles are quite administrative and support the BD Managers, who are more pursuit-focused. The centralised pursuit functions within the big four remain a success due to the rigor, infrastructure and systems in place to cope with large pursuits. Their teams are experienced and are usually at the more senior level. We see some decentralised bid professionals in the big four who churn through proposals, however fee earners play more of an active role in managing pitches.

Are we paying our people well compared to the market? Most top-tier firms are near the top of the market. The main differentiator is bonus schemes; we see some law firms offer generous (10% plus) performance based bonuses, sometime with KPI structures in place to determine remuneration.