Green shoots for the legal employment market?

Figures published in The Law Society Gazette this week may provide a sprig of optimism amongst otherwise gloomy economic and employment data.

TheCityUK – a lobby group that “champions the international competitiveness of the financial services industry” – has published a London Employment Survey, from which the Law Society Gazette quotes a 3.3% rise in the number of “legal service employees” in the first half of 2012, to 118,700.

Whilst the legal services sector is the third largest sector by employment in the City of London –  behind management consultancy and accounting and banking – it saw the biggest increase in jobs in the first half of 2012.

Not all of these employees are solicitors, of course; SRA figures show that there are 127,109 practicing solicitors in total on its books. Nor do we have details of what these recent jobs are or in which practice areas.

But the news offers a glimmer of hope that the professional services sector in the City of London, at least, appears to be faring reasonably well despite a bleak economic outlook, nationally and internationally; a recent Legal Week article highlights the contraction in both local and global merger markets

Commenters on the Law Society Gazette website deride the story, arguing that the employment picture outside the City of London is quite different.

Interestingly, the Law Society Gazette story also cites figure released by the SRA showing an additional 185 Registered Foreign Lawyers (“RFL”) practising in England and Wales in September, bringing the total number of RFL to 1929. This is in marked contrast to the August 2012 figure of 1744, 108 RFL fewer than were practising in July 2012.

Anecdotally, recruiters elsewhere in England have told QLTS School staff that the market is not as tight as it was even 6 or 7 months ago at some levels and in some areas of practice, but that law firms and clients alike are still feeling the squeeze of a sluggish economy. We are not out of the woods yet and this story needs to be read in context.

Nonetheless, these figures – including the increase in RFLs – are indicative that growth remains – albeit muted – in the professional services sector in the City of London, and that London remains the world’s premier financial centre.