How new providers are changing the market for law careers in Northern Ireland
The rise of alternative legal services providers (ALSPs) is disrupting the Northern Ireland job market - for the better, opening up opportunities for candidates and creating an environment of positive competition.
Challengers to the traditional law firm set-up, these innovative providers deliver via a model that departs from the traditional law firm delivery model, by using contract lawyers, process mapping or web-based technology.
ALSPs are not an entirely new way of working with the model in Northern Ireland as far back as the early 2000s. Donaldson Legal Consulting, in particular, has been operating here in NI since 2005.
What is new however, is the prevalence of such a model - led by a real demand for alternative routes to legal services.
Donaldson Legal Consulting, for example, has enjoyed rapid expansion since inception - and never more so than in the past five years as other players have entered the market. In fact you could say Donaldson Legal Consulting has created a whole new breed of lawyer in Northern Ireland.
The rise is as a result of more regulations, changes to the way in which companies can work and ultimately a squeeze on resources.
The evolution of ALSPs to a more mainstream function and service offering is a timely intervention for the legal sector - and never more so in terms of candidate choice.
With a high proportion of graduates leaving our local universities with law degrees, there was - for a time - a saturation in the marketplace with more trainees coming through than there were jobs.
The 'more heads than desks' scenario we were witnessing meant our talented young legal graduates were moving into new fields such as marketing and finance or at worst leaving NI for Great Britain or further afield.
Northern Ireland is perfectly placed to capitalise on this emerging legal provision for a myriad of reasons. We have high levels of academia with many people who want to pursue a career in law here. The cost of living is lower and therefore salaries are reflective of that, which means UK firms can offer clients the same quality of service but at a lower rate that what they would pay in London.
There is also no time difference from London which helps massively and we are still part of the EU … for the moment.
With the boom in ALSPs, we are witnessing a reinvention of NI's legal sector, especially with regards to the job market.
This increased pool of opportunities is good news for everyone - creating more competition, opening up what may have once been viewed as a stifled marketplace by doing exactly what it says on the tin - offering an alternative to the status quo.
The big draw of ALSPs is career progression and international scope of working. Traditional firms to date simply might not have the same reach as ALSPs, and while not of interest to every candidate, the chance to work across legal jurisdictions on international work, without having to leave Northern Ireland will appeal to some of our legal minds here.
ALSPs aren't here to revolutionise the sector into something unrecognisable, instead they are a necessary evolution for a market that was saturated.
ALSPs should be viewed as a welcomed addition to an already buoyant legal market.
Andrew Currie is a qualified solicitor and Legal Consultant at Brightwater NI