Local government legal departments are instigating recruitment freezes ahead of public sector budget cuts, while there has been a surge in demand for legal aid lawyers in immigration, family and criminal work and an upturn in corporate law hires.

Colin Loth, manager of the legal teams at recruitment firm Badenoch and Clark, said there has been a ‘noticeable decrease’ in the number of legal jobs available in local government.

He said: ‘It is generally accepted that there are going to be budgetary restraints for local government. There are instances of recruitment freezes where local authority legal teams are simply not hiring at all.

‘Even in local authorities that have not been specifically told not to recruit, there is a general sense that they will only hire when absolutely necessary.’

Loth said budgetary cuts were likely to lead to legal jobs being cut in local government, but only in certain areas.

He said: ‘Some fields of work, such as housing, child care or planning, will be very difficult to cut because there is so much work in these areas. Politically, it would be difficult to cut child care lawyers as more of them are needed.

‘However, cuts are more likely in more commercial or environmental areas of local government work.’

The picture is very different in legal aid work, however.

Some areas of legal aid work are seeing a surge in recruitment as firms seek to increase their number of qualified solicitors in order to show they have sufficient capacity to win legal aid contracts under the Legal Service’s Commission’s new tendering process.

Badenoch & Clarke executive director Lynne Hardman said: ‘Firms are eagerly hiring lawyers in parallel with submission of business plans to apply for LSC [contracts].

‘Practices seeking to win funding from the LSC at the end of May are driving a surge in demand for immigration, family and criminal lawyers.’

Loth added: ‘It really is quite an aggressive market at the moment for people with a criminal law, or family law background. Firms need quantity in terms of lawyers to get their allocation.’

He said in commercial firms, as transactional work begins to pick up, there has been a rise in demand for solicitors on short-term contacts.

Loth added: ‘Firms are hesitant about how long the upturn in work will last. It has got to the stage where there is more work than people available to do it, so they are taking on lawyers on three, six or nine-month contracts.’