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Lawyers are still suffering

Demand for in-house lawyers has been hit hard by the global economic crisis but could there be hope on the horizon for Tokyo’s swollen ranks of unemployed legal eagles?

Matt Anderson, manager of the finance and banking team at Legal Futures, says in the wake of post-Lehman job cuts and hiring freezes, he has never seen such “an amazing pool of unemployed legal talent” across private practice, corporate and financial services. But he adds that those sectors are starting to show some signs of a return in demand for lawyers.

The question is: is this the start of a sustained rally or just a false dawn?

“We need to look at the markets for guidance on that question, and although some of our clients tell us positive signs exist on the front side, it usually takes three to six months for any trickle down effect; so it is difficult for us to correctly interpret the cause for the recent slight increase in demand,” Anderson says.

Whether we are on the brink of a rally or not, lawyers might find some solace in knowing that there will always be some demand, no matter how small, for them in banking and finance.

Pete Millett, director of recruitment firm People Services International, says while overall banking and finance hiring levels in Japan are still quite anaemic, legal remains an essential regulatory function in which replacement hiring will always need to take place.

“Most large financial firms usually operate on a mix of both in-house and externally retained legal counsel, so there are usually some positions available in house,” Millett adds.

What about options for lawyers beyond the legal sphere? The news there isn’t particularly good. Anderson says they will find it just as tough as anyone else trying to change course mid-stream.

“Some have the business acumen and education to move into business unit roles but most do not, and for those that do it is remains extremely tough to convince hiring managers to take a punt on an inexperienced candidate,” says Anderson.

And compliance positions won’t be easy to land either. “Roles in compliance are easier to fit into, but compliance has also been hit hard resulting in a glut of well-qualified and unemployed candidates to choose from,” he says.

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