MERJE Markets – Sershen Ingram, our new Principal Consultant, talks us through launching our Legal division and the current industry landscape

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We recently welcomed Sershen Ingram to the MERJE team. He brings with him a successful track record and a strong reputation operating across the in-house Legal market.

Having previously worked for a well-known, UK-based Legal recruitment brand, Sershen will oversee and build out MERJE’s Legal function as we continue to capitalise on the many established relationships we have across the Financial Services, Banking and Commerce and Industry sectors.

Here, we seized the opportunity to question Sershen about his career, industry expertise, current Legal landscape and how he is settling in at MERJE.

You studied law at university and then, following the Bar Practice Course, pursued a career as a barrister. What was the reason for your change in direction to embark on a career in recruitment?

I really enjoyed my time in the Legal profession; it was fascinating and challenging but most importantly involved a great deal of interaction with a wide range of people. This tangible element was the part I enjoyed the most and was also the main tenet I wanted to preserve when moving into a new profession.

Recruitment was the natural next step for me, being equally people-centric, providing the opportunity to utilise my knowledge of the Legal profession and encouraging me to exercise my commercial judgement more autonomously.

What does the current landscape look like across the in-house Legal arena, how has it changed during your time recruiting in this market and what are the most topical issues at present?

The in-house Legal market has grown significantly since I began my career in recruitment. This is because many lawyers have become disillusioned with the antiquated structures of traditional law firms and look for a greater breadth and depth of work, not to mention a healthier work/life balance. These are benefits that an in-house move can offer and I have seen a significant increase in the demand for in-house roles from lawyers at all levels.

Likewise, businesses have realised the advantage of employing in-house lawyers, rather than instructing outside counsel, who can naturally be better aligned with their commercial priorities. In turn, they now recruit at more junior levels across all sectors as they recognise the value in lawyers developing commercial awareness hand-in-hand with legal skills. This has seen a significant increase in newly qualified lawyers moving in-house, where previously they have typically waited three to five years before being considered ‘ready’ to make that move.  

How has the Legal market been affected by COVID-19 and how do you see this evolving over the next 12-18 months?

I think that the Legal sector has been affected in similar ways to many other markets, notably with redundancies made across various practice areas. However, because the rule of law covers such a wide range of Legal issues, some areas have naturally been affected more than others. One example is the decline in the retail sector, causing uncertainty for many businesses operating within that space, alongside the rapid growth in E-commerce.

Any material changes to the way in which a company operates or grows will naturally require Legal support or intervention, from the amendment of its commercial agreements with customers or suppliers, to advice on corporate entity structures to employment law guidance in the event of employees either leaving or joining a business. Additionally, all of the sectors listed above depend on the accumulation and management of a significant amount of personal data and so a demand for privacy advice will only grow.

Another obvious change within the Legal market currently is a revised attitude towards working from home, or otherwise outside of the office, which has long been a preference for many candidates looking for new roles.

What advice would you give to anyone seeking to move in-house?

The best advice would be to try and secure a secondment through your law firm, ideally to a business in a sector that you’re interested in and would want to move into. This would provide the opportunity to gain valuable in-house experience, which can vary from sector to sector, and also help to establish whether this is a career pathway which you are genuinely interested in.

Another tip would be to speak to recruiters who specialise in the in-house market. They will be able to provide you with insights into this market, keep you updated on hiring trends and salary expectations and also help you with interview preparation.

What is important to candidates in your market when looking for a new role in terms of salary, packages, flexibility and medium to longer term prospects?

Salary will almost always be a major factor when looking for a new role, but typically you will find that lawyers coming from private practice will be prepared to take a reduction in basic salary when moving in-house. It is therefore not the driving force behind their decision-making, which is more likely based on the variety of work on offer, the satisfaction of making commercial decisions which will directly affect the business and an improved work/life balance.

The other major factor in choosing to move in-house comes from the alternative career path. Working towards partnership in most firms is a long and arduous journey which can appear quite daunting for junior lawyers. The chance to move to an in-house team and progress more swiftly is therefore appealing. Additionally, the culture and environment within many businesses often suits the lifestyle of modern lawyers, who can be put off by the archaic model of a traditional law firm.

Flexible working is very much in the spotlight at the moment with people increasingly wanting to work from home more. Have you noticed a disparity between clients’ and candidates’ expectations on home working and how do you feel this will impact either the recruitment or Legal industries?

There was certainly a noticeable disparity pre-lockdown, when it came to candidates' hopes of flexible working meeting employers’ expectations. When discussing candidate preferences around remote working, for example one day per week, prospective employers would often prefer to see how lawyers 'settle in' before considering 'unsupervised' work, which would suggest an initial lack of trust.

With the pandemic forcing us all to approach working structures differently, it is promising to think that employers will now likely be more open-minded towards working preferences and that in fact we may even see supporting remote working arrangements as providing a competitive edge for a role.

Finally, what would people be surprised to learn about you?

When I was younger I used to DJ on a pirate radio station!

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