Networking – Top 10 Tips

Category: October 5, 2012

I have been invited to give a presentation to a group of students at the end of the month on the topic of Networking. Feedback from their lecturers suggests that there is a noticeable skill shortage, with many students not having the tools available to network effectively and as a result showing a lack of confidence.

Networking is an interpersonal skill that anyone can do if they are prepared to put the effort, time and energy in. Developing the skills such as networking will help one to get a job, keep it, get promoted and will last a lifetime.

I have compiled a list of top tips gained from my own experiences of networking:

1) Be prepared. The traditional term networking has gone through different definitions. Real networking can happen anywhere, anytime from all the people you meet. So always be polished and professional
2) Networking events. Do your research on the companies and people who are attending. This will give you talking points and will show them you have done your homework
3) Arrive early to an event. This has a number of obvious benefits but most importantly it gives you an opportunity to strike up alliances with other people who have arrived early and gets you warmed up, talking and in the right frame of mind to network
4) Prepare an introduction about yourself i.e. an “elevator pitch” that gets the conversation started and explains the who, what, when, where and why of your current situation
5) Be confident in your approach. Offer a firm handshake, maintain eye contact throughout, listen (aim to do 80% listening to 20% talking, this will give you time to think of the next question to ask and will make the other person feel important and engaged), ask open-ended questions and remember to smile
6) Remember people’s names. This can be tricky with a room full of new faces. A technique for remembering a lot of people’s names is to ask for their business card (this has the added value of creating more opportunities for open-end questions around the role that they do, etc) or if they do not have a business card make a note of their name, where they work and what they do, instead
7) Show an interest in the people that you meet. Ask them how they got into their business and what advice they would give you
8) Networking is all about building relationships and giving before you get. Think about what you could give back to them. Do you have any skills that could benefit their business or have you spoken to someone during the networking event that would be of interest to them
9) Ask people their preferred method of communication when you follow up. Always follow up with a thank you note when someone has spent time with you, given you advice or information or a recommendation
10) Keep in regular contact. Once you have established a new contact maintain that relationship through regular dialogue with content that is be relevant to your contact

I would be interested to hear your top tips when it comes to networking. What are your do’s and don’t’s? What success stories have you had as a result of networking?

I look forward to you sharing your thoughts?

Regards,

Ben

New Year Legal Recruitment Resolutions

Category: October 3, 2012

The beginning of October is the start of a new financial year for Ab Initio Recruitment. As I enter into my third year of trading I thought I would share with you 3 commercial New Year resolutions I aim to focus on this year:

1) Increase face-to-face activity with candidates and clients
2) Increase use of social media by monthly blog writing and weekly Twitter commentary
3) Continue to grow my knowledge of the legal sector and the influences and changes it is experiencing

Throughout the year I will give you an update on how I am progressing and will share with you valuable snippets of information that I have gained from my experiences in legal recruitment during the next twelve months.

Please feel free to contribute to this blog. If you would like to document your own resolutions and create an on going thread on this blog then please reply using the box below.

Best regards,

Ben

Legal Review of 2011

Category: January 11, 2012

In November 2010 I posted a blog predicting what the landscape would look like for law firms in 2011. I predicted a year of strategic change with firms reducing cost by outsourcing services, improving IT infrastructure and internal processes, trimming headcount, improving pricing models, recruiting solicitors with a following and expanding their offering in areas of growth such as: litigation, insurance, employment and charities.

At the time many firms felt profits for 2011 would remain flat. However despite a tricky year for many firms, particularly those on the high street, commercial firms in the North (North West and Yorkshire) remain in a position of relative health, with 60% of law firms in the North West reporting an increase in profits in 2011 according to a survey by PwC. The average profit per equity partner in the North West increased to £246,000. However with the average profit margin dropping to 13%, many firms have found themselves doing more for less.

Surprisingly, despite challenging market conditions, litigation, Insurance and niche areas such as tax, pensions and charity law have all seen an increase in recruitment. Partner and senior solicitor level appointments have been popular; candidates with a following and achievable business plans being in high demand.

As predicted larger firms have started to look at more efficient ways of operating their own business looking towards legal process outsourcing, offshoring and even “North Shoring” – i.e. moving work to Northern offices where office space and salaries are cheaper. The practice of North Shoring is nothing new for firms with regional outposts and I expect this activity to increase. For example Addleshaw Goddard has increased staff in its Transaction Service Team (TST) from five at the time it was piloted in November 2010 to 42, with the intention of boosting numbers to more than 60 as it is used by more practice areas. www.legalweek.com/legal-week/news/2114471/addleshaws-ramps-ups-paralegal-centre-cut-client-fees . If expansion does happen in 2012 I expect it to occur in the regional centres of Manchester, Leeds and Birmingham, following the example of Gateleys who opened new offices in Manchester in 2010 and Leeds in January 2012.

Managing pricing pressure has also played a defining role in a firm’s success. It is here to stay with firms continuing to look at different pricing models such as fixed, capped and global fee structures as an alternative to the traditional hourly rate. Firms that embrace these changes and produce innovative pricing structures to suit their clients needs will
differentiate themselves, and will win work as a result, in this ever increasingly competitive market.

Make sure to look out for my next blog on predictions for 2012.

Legal Aid cuts and Jackson civil litigation reforms confirmed by Government

Category: June 22, 2011

Legal aid cuts and the backing of the Jackson reforms of civil litigation costs have been confirmed yesterday by Justice Secretary Ken Clarke. What impact will it have on your firm? Continue Reading

Insolvency News – Rise in Q1 retail administrations

Category: May 8, 2011

THE number of retail companies falling into administration in the first quarter of this year increased by 30% to 60 compared with 46 in the same period last year, according to new figures.

This is the highest number of retailers to enter administration in a quarter in two years, according to research by business advisory firm Deloitte.

Dan Butters, partner in the reorganisation services practice in the Leeds office, said: “It comes as no surprise that the retail sector has been worst affected. The sector is heavily reliant on buoyant consumer spending and the increase in VAT and the government’s austerity measures are undoubtedly hitting the sector hard.

“In particular, smaller retailers are likely to be feeling the pinch more so than ever, as they often have little grounds to negotiate flexible credit terms with suppliers and may find it difficult to raise funding.”

“During the economic downturn, companies experiencing financial difficulty were able to rely on low interest rates and HMRC’s favourable Time to Pay scheme in order to make ends meet. However, as HMRC attempts to recoup lost revenue, we are likely to see a more hardened approach being taken. We have already seen a decline in the acceptance of CVAs, often used as a last resort by companies attempting to avoid administration.”

He added: “Whilst the retail sector has fared the worst this quarter, this trend is very much in line with the overall direction of the market. Overall, the first quarter of 2011 saw an increase of 21% on the previous quarter, with a total of 557 companies falling into administration compared with 438 in Q4 of 2010. These figures indicate that we are not out of the woods yet.”

What does the future hold?

Category: February 24, 2011

What does the future hold?

Ben Whiting, Director of Ab Initio Recruitment explores future trends and their likely effect on the legal recruitment market.

The recession and its effect on the legal profession:
The credit crunch of 2008 followed by the recession has had a severe effect on the legal profession and recruitment market acting as a catalyst for change and influencing future trends particularly in commercial law firms.

Firms with large property departments suffered as real estate deals dried up. M&A and finance related transactions also slowed down considerably with many firms focussing on their insolvency practices in a bid to secure the plentiful restructuring work. The high profile collapse of major institutions such as Lehman Brothers automatically resulted in a large quantity of legal work, and the top British and American firms have profited on big restructuring and insolvency proceedings. Meanwhile, those firms that have always focussed less on transactional work and more on litigation have held up well and expect continued growth in 2011.

In general, commercial lawyers lucky enough to be employed have had less work to do. The unlucky ones make up an estimated figure of 4,263 lawyers made redundant at the UK top 200 firms between autumn 2007 and spring 2010 according to The Lawyer magazine. It is still too early to predict when significant recruitment of transactional lawyers will occur. Many managing partners don’t envisage this happening for next 1-2 years at the earliest.

The world of private law has also been affected but not as badly, although firms working in this area have their own problems to face. They must now confront ‘Tesco Law” and/or major reforms being made to how the UK’s Legal Aid system works.

Future trends:
The intention of the coalition government seems to be a re-engineering of the UK economy from one that is heavily state managed to one that is more private sector led. We have already witnessed major cuts to public spending with many local authorities going through wide scale redundancy processes. While the transition itself may gift some law firms new business, it may also take from others, unless those firms themselves re-engineer their service lines. A concern for many of re-engineering during a fragile economy is that it could push the country into a ‘double-dip’ recession. Only time will tell.

Despite the cuts to the public sector many in the recruitment industry expect to see pockets of growth in regulatory organisations and core areas of service delivery such as childcare, which continues to experience shortages. With increased clarity over budgets hiring managers will become better able to present a business case for recruitment. The challenge to retain and attract new talent will still exist however many organisations are expected to rely on interim support to meet their service levels.

In private practice the recruitment of lateral hires continues combined with the demand for a guaranteed following. Lawyers will need to show prospective employers that they offer more than being good at law. They have to be good at project management, collaboration, commercial thinking and be more client facing. The focus on getting the right recruit who can immediately add value is more prevalent now than ever.

Managing partners face an even more immediate concern: clients have seen the light on the level of fees law firms have been charging. With tighter budgets, clients are now demanding greater value for money. Law firms are being forced into a re-examination of their business models and many are discovering there are more efficient ways of providing their services.

Legal process outsourcing, cutting edge IT systems, changes around billing (charging one fixed fee rather than by the hour), value and collaboration with rival firms are all options being implemented. For example, Allen & Overy (A&O) has recently announced the ‘near shoring’ of its support staff to Belfast creating 300 jobs. Addleshaw Goddard (AG) has piloted a transactional services centre in Manchester consisting of five paralegals since November 2010 and has plans to expand to at least 60. In an attempt to pass cost savings on to clients AG is one of the first practices to link disaggregation of legal work to the training and development of its lawyers. The move will free up associates to do more relationship-building with clients and build a better understanding of their business.

The effect on recruitment of AG’s model will create opportunities at a junior level whilst potentially benefitting the firm in the long run by having a working pool of suitable applicants for training contracts to select from.

The Legal Services Act (LSA):
This Act has created much controversy but no one can deny that it is likely to have a radical influence on the legal profession. Legal or Multi Disciplinary Partnerships mark a liberalisation of the partnership model and has concentrated the minds among law firm leaders. As a result an increasing number of firms are looking at introducing corporate vehicles into their partnerships as a way of transforming a proportion of income into capital to gain a tax arbitrage. Many feel it could also pave the way for third parties to invest in firms thus providing investment to fund lateral hires, additional branches and potential mergers.

Alternative Business Structures (ABS) are likely to split the legal services market wide open. Lawyers will be able to team up with other professionals to offer a range of services to clients. ABSs also open the door to the possibility of law firms floating on the stock market. Probably best suited to firms whose legal service are commoditised and standardised through investment in technology and processes such as Australian PI, family and probate specialist Slater & Gordon who was the first to float in 2007. Since floating its profits have soared and its enhanced war chest has enabled it to acquire smaller firms across Australia. Floating can also be used as a recruitment incentive for new equity partners, who would benefit alongside existing partners if outside capital were introduced.

Opponents of the move say that ‘Tesco Law’ will result in large, branded commercial entities cherry-picking the most profitable work, leaving only the more difficult cases for smaller practices. With 85% of the approximately 10,000 law firms in the UK being small firms (4 partners or less), this change will no doubt be far-reaching and severe. As a result many anticipate an increase in mergers between firms whilst less profitable firms could face administration.

So what does this all mean for the recruitment industry?

1 More than ever, firms are looking to recruitment experts who understand their business and will find them exceptional candidates who will compliment that business, its strategy and, crucially, will make a positive difference to the bottom line, quickly. In such a competitive market, firms can afford to be choosy but can’t afford to make the wrong decision. It is vital that recruitment experts recognise this and change with the times.

2 The recruitment sector is not exempt from pricing pressures. Margins are being squeezed as clients look to all their suppliers to provide greater value for money. In the legal sector the hourly rate will soon become the exception rather than the norm, and recruitment firms need to recognise this themselves, developing more innovative pricing which is more aligned to those of their target clients. Having revamped our own pricing structure, and introduced fixed and capped fees for interim and permanent assignments, we have found firms are very receptive to our different approach to pricing and strongly believe that this is a trend which is set to continue.

Quality advice and value for money. How do you achieve them?

Category: February 2, 2011

A recent survey commissioned by Yorkshire law firm Gordons highlights high quality advice and value for money as the key factors Yorkshire’s businesses seek most from the region’s law firms. Continue reading

The Bribery Act 2010

Category: January 24, 2011

The Bribery Act 2010 could make treating your clients to the best champagne, food and tickets to watch the next major sporting event an offence.

The Act due to come into force in April could have a profound impact on business. However nobody can say for sure what will and won’t be allowed under the new rules.

Corporate hospitality is a key tool used by many businesses to either secure future business or to cement existing relationships with a client. Companies will be expected to decide for themselves what counts as “reasonable” or proportionate” hospitality and then hope they don’t incur the wrath of the authorities.

Do you currently rely on corporate hospitality as part of your marketing and business development strategy? Are you aware of the potential risk associated? I’d be interested to hear what measures you are currently taking to limit the risk.

Residential Property review and predictions for 2011.

Category: December 8, 2010

Ben Whiting, Director at Ab Initio Legal Recruitment reports on recruitment in the residential property sector and offers his predictions for 2011.

Overall, 2010 has been a subdued year for residential property recruitment. The legal recruitment market has seen the number of new vacancy registrations for residential conveyancers remain well below par due to mortgage lending failing to recover. The forecast for 2011 looks very much the same with the major Banks and building societies not expecting any significant recovery.

Locum recruitment, a desirable career choice for many conveyancers during the busy periods from 2005 – 2008 and a useful resource for over stretched practices, has been hit the hardest. Figures show that only 5% of locum vacancies registered in 2010 have been for residential property locums compared to 85% during the peak period in 2007.

Permanent recruitment has also dropped off. Some firms are still operating part-time working hours for their conveyancing staff, while others are getting by with a reduced workforce. The liquidity caused by redundancies has meant that when vacancies do arise, firms have been able to fill them without the outside assistance of an agency.

On the upside, the economic downturn has created an abundance of talent with strong, technically proficient and top-tier conveyancers now available. Ab Initio Recruitment has found many of these top calibre candidates registering with an agent when previously they would not have needed to. The sector they once knew has changed dramatically and they have had to adapt with it or face being out of work for long periods. As a result candidates are now willing to consider both locum and permanent roles that require a bigger commute and in some cases for a lower than expected salary. Many have found having an experienced agent who understands the market an invaluable resource to securing those much sought after positions.

Where many high street practices have struggled, those committed to the sector such as direct conveyancing companies like Enact direct legal solutions, one of the largest direct conveyancing companies in the UK, have increased market share through client acquisitions, improved customer service and a diverse portfolio of lenders.

Bev Mayo, Remortgage Operations Director of Enact direct legal solutions who employ over 300 staff comments, “ whilst our number of completed re-mortgages is significantly below our full capacity, in 2010 we have seen more remortgage work when compared to 2009. We don’t’ anticipate a significant rise in interest rates for some time yet and it is this which typically stimulates the remortgage market. We have, however, been pleased to retain our talented staff. Their loyalty has seen them benefit from the investment and training we provide. When the market does change we will be in great position to manage the increase in volume.”

The economic downturn has been a major driving force for change across the sector. With the advent of new entrants when Alternative Business Structures enter the market from October 2011 more change and opportunity is predicted. The tendering process for the major brands’ residential conveyancing work has already begun. Those who are successful at making it onto the panels will benefit from an increase in new instructions.

2011 will see many mergers between high street firms; increased focus on competitive fees/ innovative pricing structures and for many a shift to an outsourced model or lower paid paralegals. Those firms that fail to change with the times will be left behind or, worse still, disappear altogether.

What will the legal sector look like in 2011?

Category: November 23, 2010

2010 has been a challenging year for the legal sector and the general feeling is this doesn’t look like changing in 2011. In the UK the legal profession is condensing at a time when it also needs to become more international and is preparing to compete with new entrants when alternative business structures (ABSs) enter the market from October 2011.

However, where there are challenges there are opportunities. The economic downturn has been a major driving force for change in the legal sector. Continue reading

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