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Is the War for Talent over?

In 1998 the American Management Consultancy, McKinsey & Co coined the phrase The War for Talent about the problem facing many large American companies at the time, namely the recruitment and retention of executives. The report struck a chord because it coincided with increasing globalization of business; the boom in world economies; and the growing recognition of people as a source of competitive advantage. Success in this new world depended on a pool of skilled labour at a time when the demand for it was beginning to outstrip supply. Soon the war for talent went from being about filling a few senior positions, to recruitment problems at all levels. Talent and talent management became global phenomena across a wide range of business sectors.

As the war for talent spilled over into the legal profession, skills shortages were reported from across specialities and geographies as far afield as Japan, South Africa and Canada. There were shortages of lawyers to draft legislation in the Pacific region, federal prosecutors in Long Island and specialist lawyers in the Caribbean. These were serious resourcing problems and solutions were needed quickly. In the UK, a better work life balance was proposed as a way of keeping key lawyers in the profession. The American Bar Association thought that- shifting the age of retirement- might be one way of dealing with talent shortages by giving people longer careers; of seeing retirement as more of a journey than a destination.  And throughout the world, there was talk of creating corporate cultures that met career aspirations, and investing more in staff development as ways to retain key staff.

But, what of now? Has the worldwide recession created such a glut of legal staff seeking work that the war for talent is effectively over?

At one end of the scalsuch as M&A, where they reported a 70% fall in UK activity to the 1st Quarter of this year- pressures to recruit were lower than for some time. Indeed, some Partner cuts or delays in promotion rounds were forecast in the City from corporate restructuring caused by the economic crisis. At the other end of the scale, the legal implications of the fallout from the crisis are significant. As one contributor to the Wall Street Journal recently noted in the wake of the growing workload resulting from shareholder and securities fraud suits, Lawyers will be employed for a while. 

Is the war for talent in the legal profession over? Maybe the jury is still out.