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Big Law Firms Offering Jobs Without Interviews In Response to Deal Surge

Some of the world’s biggest law firms have started offering lawyers jobs without interviewing them, in the latest example of the war for talent reaching new heights. 

Several major U.S., European and U.K. law firms are responding to the spike in deal work by offering roles to junior lawyers, generally those with between one and five years’ post-qualification experience, on the strength of their CVs alone, according to two legal recruiters and four partners across international law firms and elite European firms.

“In any other year you’d have said it was stupid,” one of the partners said. “But competition for people has become so heated that big law firms are truncating what is normally a process of months into a matter of weeks.”

According to one of the recruiters, the trend has become increasingly visible since late summer, after nations started easing lockdown restrictions.

The move has been prompted by a sustained surge in M&A and private equity activity that has left firms with the dilemma of either rapidly adapting their transactional teams, or turning away big ticket work and risking the loss of clients.

The total value of global M&A has already reached a record $5 trillion in 2021, more than 40{e421c4d081ed1e1efd2d9b9e397159b409f6f1af1639f2363bfecd2822ec732a} more than the full-year total for 2020, according to Refinitiv.

Partners and recruiters say that law firms, especially those that cut staff or redeployed lawyers to restructuring or disputes teams during the pandemic in 2020, have been blindsided by the upsurge in activity, and are having to take unprecedented action to secure big ticket work.

One of the recruiters said that many deal teams are currently turning work away, but want to be in a position to tell clients they can still take on the big mandates and maintain relations.

“In an odd way [recruiting on the spot] makes sense for firms, so they are able to tell a client, ‘Well hey, we can actually do the deal now because we have the manpower’. So they’re locking people in before the interviews even take place. Or, alternatively, interviews are changing shape altogether. They’re informal. It’s now more about ‘let’s make sure they’re not crazy’, rather than ‘are they a good fit for us’.”

The recruiter added: “It’s either this, or the client goes elsewhere and you risk losing them forever.”

One of the partners goes as far as to challenge the characterization of the current “war for talent”, by describing it as “a war for heads and hands”.

“Firms need people to get deals that are happening now over the line. So if you’ve got the firm history, training at a top firm, then firms are telling you, yes.”

Similarly, a partner at an elite U.K. firm said: “My friends who are partners at other firms have said that if somebody has a CV with relevant experience, they’re just hiring them on the spot.”

They added: “It’s definitely a good time to be somebody looking for a job.” 

The battle for associates has already led to unprecedented numbers of pay rises over the course of the year, with more than 25 international firms increasing salaries after Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy decided to raise its base rate to $200,000.

Through June and July, several firms increased pay, including: Ashurst, Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner, DLA Piper, Hogan Lovells and Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom. Since then firms including Linklaters, Allen & Overy, Clifford Chance and White & Case have announced subsequent rises.

Varsha Patel contributed to this report.