The threat of greater financial penalties as a result of forthcoming data protection reforms have contributed to an overall surge in demand for in-house lawyers over the past two years, according to latest sector research.

A report published by data publisher VacancySoft and legal recruiter Laurence Simons shows that various EU regulations such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which comes into force next year, and US law, such as the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, have led vacancies in Europe to steadily rise since December 2014.

In June last year, vacancy figures were 146% higher than what was reported in December 2014. The number of vacancies in November last year was 20% higher than the 24-monthly average.

The ‘lion’s share’ of demand comes has come from financial services, with 795 vacancies last year. In the financial services sector, commercial banking was responsible for more than half of demand. The report states that if commercial banking were to be a sector in its own right, it would be the second-largest sector in Europe.

Following the EU referendum vote in June last year, vacancies in France and Ireland are ‘trending’ at a faster rate than the UK. 'The Brexit vote has led to predictions that financial services firms will look to relocate from London if an agreement cannot be made with regard to passporting arrangements,’ the report says.

Demand for data privacy specialists accounts for the majority of in-house demand in the financial services, healthcare, and consumer goods and services sectors. Nearly a quarter of increased demand in the TMT (technology, media and telecoms) sector was for data privacy lawyers.

The report attributes the growing appetite for data privacy specialists to the GDPR, which comes into force in May 2018. Companies that breach the regulations face penalties of up to 5% of worldwide turnover. 'Given such vast possible fines, it’s no surprise data privacy is attracting so much attention currently,’ the report says.

In life sciences, the report suggests a noticeable spike in demand can be attributed to proposals to amend the EU’s Medical Device Regulations and In Vitro Diagnostic Regulations, which were announced in May last year and published the following month.

The majority of growth in vacancies were for senior in-house posts. Firms with a larger headcount (more than 5,000 people) accounted for at least eight in 10 of all advertised vacancies in the 12 months ending in November 2016 – an 80% increase on the previous 12 months.