Feeling Stranded?

At the start of lockdown government figures showed there were around 80,000 Kiwis living overseas and with the current situation and border restrictions more than half have now returned to New Zealand in the last six weeks, with more planning a return in the coming months once restrictions loosen.  With recruitment freezes and so much uncertainty it is not a great time to be job hunting, but there are some opportunities out there. 

I have spoken with several Kiwi Lawyers over the last six weeks who have either just returned from overseas or were about to go on their dream OE, which is now not a possibility and find themselves therefore immediately available for work.

So, what are their options? 

A number of private Practice firms have understandably pushed pause on recruitment that’s to be reviewed when we return to Level 2, but there are some opportunities out there and with the changed landscape of COVID some areas of the legal sector are busier than ever; employment, insolvency, banking, immigration and family law in particular. 

A lot of teams are run quite lean and there is still a shortage of lawyers in New Zealand so there are strong indications from our legal clients that more roles will come about once we return to the office and some confidence returns.   

Anyone working in the legal sector in New Zealand is aware of what is commonly referred to as the “missing middle.” This is in reference to the shortage of Solicitors, specifically at the intermediate level or 3 to 6 years PQE. It is at this stage of their career that most New Zealand qualified Solicitors decide to go overseas to the UK or Australia, where they can earn more money, travel Europe and gain their overseas experience which is pretty much a rite of passage and an expected part of the Kiwi career path. It is also an opportunity to gain exposure to global clients, high level work, big transactions and deals and potentially be even more marketable on the return to New Zealand.   

Whilst we will see some of these candidates returning to New Zealand and fewer going overseas, for the next few months at least, there will still be a large number that don’t return meaning the gap will remain.  And many candidates with plans to go on their OE still maintain they will go once it is safe to do so.

It was reported widely in the news that several large law firms are in fact paying back the wage subsidy as they did not see the decline in business they expected, which is promising.

What about In-house Lawyers?

In-house lawyers have been particularly busy throughout this period.  Providing advice to the wider business on how to survive COVID, how to comply with their legal obligations, as well as employment advice, advice around handling data and privacy working from home and how to manage a remote team.  I have placed two candidates during lockdown with a financial services company who are being on-boarded remotely to assist with workload. 

Should I contract?

A return to level 2, could see several in-house contracts as companies assess their options and economic demands.  Candidates should not shy away from contract roles at a time like this, especially if you have just returned from overseas, it is a great opportunity to re-enter the New Zealand market and could turn into a permanent opportunity.

Risk and compliance is another area that has seen huge growth over the last few years and a legal background is often quite sought after.  There is likely to be an increase in contracts in this space post-lockdown and it is a great chance to utilise your legal background whilst learning some new skills.

What else can I do?

Use this time to work on your CV, reach out to recruitment consultants you trust to discuss opportunities, update your LinkedIn profile, and reach out to your network.