The shift to remote working over the last eighteen months has made relocation a viable option for a lot more people. But are we seeing greater numbers moving to the South West – and what does this mean for the legal recruitment market here?

We may be biased but who wouldn’t want to live in the South West?!

This is undoubtedly a beautiful part of the country and we already know that Devon and Cornwall are popular destinations for those seeking a better work-life balance.

We’ve seen a number of articles over the last year suggesting that the pandemic has prompted many people to reassess where they live. Websites such as Rightmove are showing a rise in enquiries for houses in rural areas, particularly from those currently based in cities, and the recent Stamp Duty holiday encouraged many to put their home on the market. With a 6.7% rise in house prices in the South West over the last year (compared to the national average of 4.7%), it does look like properties have been in demand.

Interestingly, though, we haven’t seen a corresponding rise in the numbers of enquiries from candidates who want to move here. If relocation is on the agenda for so many, this isn’t showing in legal recruitment levels at the moment.

New area, old job?

One explanation for this is that lawyers have been able to work from home and therefore keep their current positions, even if they have moved to a new area.

The pandemic has undoubtedly accelerated the trend for flexible working, especially in law firms, who have traditionally been slower to embrace this. The recent report ‘State of the Legal Market’ from Thompson Reuters looks at the adaptations firms were forced to make in 2020 as a potential “tipping point”, speculating that this will “set off a wave of sweeping permanent changes”.

The transition to remote working has certainly been successful enough to trigger hot debate about the future of the workplace for many businesses. Employees have had a chance to demonstrate that they can work equally as well from home, and hybrid working is now seen as a far more feasible – and desirable – option.

On paper, this would allow for people to consider relocating to the South West without the need to job hunt.

We’re not convinced that this will be a long-term trend for law firms, however.

Will home working keep working for everyone?

With the government starting to encourage people to go back to the workplace, lawyers may well find themselves under pressure to be in the office more often. As we strive to return to normality, this could lead to a greater demand for face-to-face client meetings, networking functions and client entertainment.

We think that clients and employers will want to see more of their lawyers, despite any shift to flexible working practices.

This could well have an impact on the legal recruitment market.

A lengthy commute can quickly become too much, even if this isn’t on a daily basis. Will this lead to more candidates looking for purely home-based roles? Will this type of position be easy to find? Perhaps those who have moved to the South West will want to join a local firm and we will see more candidates coming to the market post relocation.

As with so much related to the fallout from the pandemic, there is still a lot of uncertainty.

The last eighteen months have given employees an insight into what working patterns suit them best – and law firms food for thought regarding how to structure the working week for their teams and clients. The question remains whether candidates will prioritise this when looking for new opportunities.

We’ll definitely be keeping an eye out to see if this translates into a trend for relocating to South West law firms and any knock-on effect this may have on legal recruitment in the area.

Watch this space!

Legal Southwest is a specialist legal recruiter, bringing together talented professionals with like-minded organisations. Take a look at our current vacancies or contact us to find out how we can help you.