Corporate law – Looking ahead

Written by Thomas Eckardt on 28th January, 2021

“Predicting rain doesn’t count. Building Arcs does.”  – Warren Buffet

The life of a corporate M&A ‘deal junky’ lawyer at a top-tier law firm is: long hours, deal volume, recruiters calling and international opportunities abound. Most top-tier law firms have massive corporate teams and a large part of their business is supported by the ‘feeder’ work that these clients provide. However, what happens when, during a downturn, markets go away? Did the work actually vanish? What is the outlook for this year?

One of the most obvious markers of a market is recruitment activity within a sector. If firms are hiring then this suggests that they are busy. Early last year recruitment activity within corporate M&A dropped by 95% over the course of a weekend.  Deal volume and work projections also dropped dramatically. According to the AFR, M&A literally ‘fell off a cliff’ in the first half of 2020 as deal makers’ appetite for risk vanished.

Interestingly, this steep decline didn’t last long. As Australia managed the pandemic better compared to the global outlook, domestic M&A activity increased quickly with deal volume in Q3 and Q4 FY2020 being of equal or higher levels than 2019. We saw lawyers’ billable hours increase dramatically while working remotely. However, challenges with on-boarding, technology updates and teams looking to ‘recapture lost profitability’ with existing staff meant recruitment remained slow.

2021 is looking like it’s going to be a ‘bumper year’ within M&A recruitment. Key factors: the BGH-Abano deal which looked to set a precedent for pandemic deals; increased scrutiny on deal terms; Foreign Investment Review Board’s approval process; and, all importantly, ‘the spirit of the market’.

What this means for corporate lawyers:

  1. Competition for top talent within corporate M&A is going to be high (but it has always been). However, this year it’s likely to be even tougher if activity does continue to increase. Salary negotiations, bonus potential, progression drivers are going to be key factors for every lawyer to consider.
  2. Talent gaps are going to become even more evident. There has always been a talent gap in Australia for corporate lawyers (especially, those with ECM experience). This is going to be further exacerbated this year due to the restrictions preventing international hiring.
  3. International relocation is going to be harder. One of the advantages of being a corporate lawyer has been the ability to relocate globally. Due to COVID and travel restrictions this is going to be tougher. However, this also will go some way to covering the gap in talent that typically appears within the 3-4 PQE level.

 

If you are a corporate lawyer who is interested in having more of a conversation about the state of the market please reach out to Tom on 0420880835.