December 11, 2017

Legal recruitment consultancy founder Jane Biggs celebrates her firm's 21st anniversary

Jane Biggs was fresh back from the Caribbean. She and her husband, Jeff, have been marking their 25th wedding anniversary by staying in a boutique hotel – “fun, a bit of sailing, a bit of tennis,” she says. “Jeff told me I should actually lie on a sun lounger and relax.” From this, one understands that Jane does not relax much or easily. I may be right because I later discover that her sister is Ellen Hunter OBE, a competitive cyclist and tandem pilot for Aileen McGlynn, a Paralympic gold medalist.Jane runs a niche legal recruitment consultancy which this year marks its 21st anniversary. A small number of staff service law firms across the East Midlands reaching into East Anglia and Yorkshire.

A new office in Birmingham to cover the West Midlands market is now very much in her sights.

The firm on Clarendon Street was set up by Jane and her friend Jo Bygott, a Nottingham solicitor. Both were with legal recruitment firms in Nottingham. and it seemed sensible that they worked together.

“Jo phoned me and asked if I was going to join her or was she coming to join me,” says Jane.

Jane joined Jo at the firm she was employed by at the time but things moved quickly. They realised they wanted their own business. Why work for anyone else?

Three months gardening leave to observe restrictive covenants gave them time to write a business plan and strategy. Within a short while, Bygott Biggs was born.

Both took the view that the key to success was a personal service, getting to know firms of solicitors, potential candidates and the broad legal profession.

“I was 27 and Jo had a small boy, Jack, who was two,” says Jane. Quickly, the firms they had worked for pulled out of Nottingham, one closing down altogether. It was a good start for a new firm to see the competition retreat.

Legal recruitment was a far distance from her education reading German and Russian, spending time in both countries.

“For a while I did some interpreting but discovered I wanted to be involved in business discussions, rather than just relaying what people were saying to one another.

“I wanted to influence discussions. I had recently met Jeff who at the time was a practising lawyer and so, influenced by him, I read for a Masters in International law at Nottingham.

“I thought it would bring languages and the law together.”

But she got into legal recruitment almost by accident.

Looking for a training contract with solicitors, she met up with a firm of legal recruitment consultants who offered her a job. Although well-placed she abandoned the idea of becoming a lawyer.

Clients today are law firms seeking assistant solicitors, paralegals through to heavyweight partners or companies recruiting in-house lawyers.

Firms have merged, others have disappeared or become different entities.

Even senior partners are changing their allegiances.

Heavyweight, experienced partners are known to complain about the remote, out-of-touch and unwanted influence of distant head offices, perceived not to understand the local market place.

Over 20 years, Bygott Biggs has established a database of several thousand lawyers and Jane acts for most firms in the East Midlands.

“We typically place over a hundred lawyers a year, several thousand over the years dependent on the economy.

The growth of Bygott Biggs follows the expansion of some Nottingham firms into Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds.

What qualities does it take to be a legal recruitment specialist?

“Listening to our clients and candidates enables us to understand what they each are looking for and to provide the best possible service.

“Given that we are dealing with the legal profession, our service has to be of the highest quality.

The legal landscape is changing rapidly as never before with mergers and practices spreading their geographical wings.

Changes to legal aid have led to some firms merging for critical mass in order to win contracts.

Criminal barristers are quitting the bar to join firms of solicitors.

“It is no longer placing lawyers with law firms,” says Jane.

“Firms are consolidating and, because we know the firms well, that has become part of our business.

“We understand what they are looking to achieve. It can mean recruiting on a bigger scale, not just individuals.”

The challenge for law firms, and Jane, is not just finding high quality talent but retaining it. A clear talent gap has emerged since the recession.

“For about five years, 2008 to 2012, many firms were not recruiting newly qualified solicitors into areas affected by the recession such as Real Estate and Corporate,” says Jane.

“As a result there is now a dearth of lawyers in those fields who have one to seven years post-qualified experience.

“As market activity increases, the demand for lawyers in corporate and real estate particularly has risen dramatically.

“This has led to increased movement in the market of those lawyers who do exist in these discipline areas and salaries are on the increase again, having remained fairly static.

“We are also seeing examples of buy-backs where candidates are persuaded to remain with their firm for more money or where firms are competing for the same candidate.

“We try and understand what our candidates are looking for.”

The recession has changed perceptions of what they want in life.

Bygott Biggs is surveying its candidates to find out more about their life time ambitions: is salary key, are they looking to be paid as much as possible; are they looking at the way the benefit package is structured; are they looking for a partnership; is partnership ultimately what they are aspiring to achieve?

“Law firms have become vulnerable for the first time ever. It has been fascinating to see the impact this has had on what people are looking for.

“It used to be about becoming a partner, women talked about glass ceilings.

“But now people look for other things such as lifestyle balance, more flexible working arrangements and the opportunity to work remotely from home.

“We have become the go-to recruiters for many lawyers looking to move out of the City, many for lifestyle reasons: a desire to move back to home towns, to raise families and so on.

“Nottingham and the East Midlands have fared well, helped by a number of highly regarded schools.

“It is these things which make the job fascinating and probably why I am doing it all these years later.”

Nottingham. Birmingham. Manchester. Leeds.

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