The effect of COVID-19 on international legal recruitment

Although there has been a slow down in the international legal recruitment market, there is very much still appetite to hire from many of our clients.

Although there has been a slow down in the international legal recruitment market, there is very much still appetite to hire as we continue to witness pockets of activity from many of our clients. Here is our latest market update of our key jurisdictions and the impact on hiring processes.

Middle East

I personally specialise in placing lawyers across the GCC, with the majority of our roles based in the UAE. Although associates in all practice areas in the region remain busy, the UAE has currently suspended the issuance of any new residential visas, and airlines are just beginning to run return flights for UAE residents stuck outside of the country. This has caused some difficulty for those due to start in new roles, however firms have generally been proactive in developing contingency plans with many associates starting work remotely from their home countries, with a view to relocating to the UAE as soon as is possible. Those that have recently received offers have been able to agree to delay handing in their notice at their current firms until there is more clarity on when they may be able to get to the region.

With the GCC being an expat-heavy market, interview processes generally are conducted virtually for those based outside of the region, with offers often being made without a face-to-face meeting if the candidate is located far away. Therefore, processes have been able to continue largely as normal via VC. Due to the visa restrictions at present, firms will not be likely to make any new offers at this time, however a number of our clients are very much still keen to review CVs with a view to progressing things once the lockdown is over, especially large international firms.

The busiest areas at present are disputes and corporate. Employment is a trend across other markets, however many firms in the Middle East have recently hired in their employment teams so this practice area seems to be settled currently. We also have a number of niche roles in areas such as funds and real estate where there is a specific client demand.


As the largest legal market, it is no surprise that our London team have remained the busiest in terms of live mandates. On the transactional side, restructuring and finance are key at present with interviews going ahead in leveraged finance, project finance and structured products. Disputes teams also remain busy, both in commercial and construction, along with employment associates. This is reflected in recruitment, with new roles being released in these areas.

Video interviews have been able to proceed as usual, and despite the difficult market, firms have largely still been able to secure visas and sponsorship for international candidates. Due to practical issues such as travel restrictions or time differences, it may be that there is a knock on effect in start dates for relocators, however there are still a number of active practice areas and impetus for candidates to join when possible.


Offshore law firms generally remain busy, which has an obvious knock on effect to hiring. This, coupled with the fact the majority of the Channel Island law firms don’t have their own trainee intake, has meant that the best way to progress the traditional NQ hiring process for September is still being thought through in these uncertain times. The key barrier at present is the current air travel restrictions which are inhibiting visits of potential employees and also those starting new positions. Remote onboarding is effective where practical, however given time differences and regulations, it is not always possible.

Our team have continued to be briefed on new opportunities across the jurisdictions and expect corporate, banking, litigation, and trusts to be busy as things start to stabilise and travel resumes.


In Ireland, firms are busy in insolvency and disputes, and also with ongoing transactions that began prior to the lockdown. Although firms are taking a cautious approach at present with regards to hiring, most are still open to reviewing strong profiles with a view to progressing to interview once there is further clarity at the end of lockdown. Irish firms often conduct VCs as part of their interview process but will usually want to meet face-to-face before extending an offer.


Due to some locations in Europe having different coping mechanisms in place for COVID-19 (for example, Germany and Switzerland), there has been less of an impact on hiring processes. In fact, a number of more commercial clients have used the lockdown as an opportunity to progress interviews more quickly, as it is easier for candidates to speak via VC from home.

Interviews via VC are becoming increasingly common, however face-to-face meetings before making an offer are still the norm, as many candidates are from elsewhere within the continental market. Some processes may therefore be delayed; however, organisations have generally been flexible and accepting in terms of any start date changes due to travel/visa difficulties. Candidates have been able to start remotely from their current locations, with onboarding and inductions taking place virtually.

Our Europe team works with a number of pharmaceuticals clients and, as you can imagine, these organisations are busy at present, with this expected to continue as the COVID-19 situation progresses. Restructuring is also a busy practice area at present, as in most locations.


Lawyers in the Australian market remain busy despite the lockdown, particularly in restructuring, employment and also disputes. This is a trend that we have seen reflected in other markets as a result of COVID-19. Further, privacy law has been a developing market in Australia for some time now, and we predict this will continue following COVID-19.

The lockdown has caused a slowdown in recruitment within the market, both private practice and in-house, however a number of pressing roles do remain open. With restrictions beginning to ease in parts of Australia however, some smaller organisations are able to release their hiring freezes quicker than those larger organisations. Typically, interview processes within the Australian market can be lengthy, especially given the international nature of the candidate pool, however organisations are well-versed in using VC technology to meet candidates for initial interviews.


With the circuit-breaker in Singapore having now been extended until June, many clients are taking the time to assess their needs in preparation for when things return to normality. Some organisations that were hiring prior to the lockdown, for example a number of banks, continue to do so as they already have sign off for their active recruitment. Although it will be trickier at present to relocate candidates to the market, there are some busier sectors, such as niche areas of finance as well as in technology and many clients are expecting a bounce following the end of the circuit-breaker.

In summary

Overall, it is fair to say that there has understandably been a slow down in recruitment internationally. This is partly to do with practical issues and also a certain level of uncertainty in the market. That being said, in every market there are very much still live openings with firms always being receptive to particularly strong profiles.

Please do send me a message or email at jamiebaker@hydrogengroup.com with any questions or to arrange a phone call to discuss further.

Posted over 3 years ago
About the author:
Jamie Baker

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