Talent and culture – a challenge and an opportunity for the NI employer

Where we are now

Millar McCall Wylie was founded in 1997. In a relatively short time, the firm has had to deal with the outworkings of the Good Friday Agreement, an economic crash, the pandemic, Brexit and more. We believe facing these hurdles has increased our resilience and we are delighted that we have experienced a period of sustained growth.

As an indigenous law firm, we are immensely proud of our roots in Belfast. We embrace our ethos of ‘expertise for everyone’ – remaining committed to traditional business and private legal services, whilst at the same time evolving into more niche areas of expertise.

Our Commercial Real Estate, Banking, Corporate and Media teams have met ongoing demand for high value transactions. The NI housing market has remained robust and our Residential Conveyancing team has had an unprecedented three years in terms of transaction volume. An increasingly financially aware population, with wealth generated through economic growth in the aftermath of the Good Friday Agreement, has brought about an increasing demand for our Private Client services, in particular succession and estate planning. Our Litigation and Employment teams have also continued to grow and develop.

There is however a significant challenge facing our profession – one to which many can no doubt relate – and that is how to nurture and attract the best talent.

The legal talent pool

Thanks to Invest Northern Ireland and other stakeholders, Northern Ireland has secured FDI to take advantage of our fantastic local talent pool in recent years. Whilst the arrival of global businesses has undoubtedly been an economic advantage for NI plc, creating jobs and putting us on the international map, it has also changed the recruitment landscape, particularly for locally-owned, independent companies. This is true not just for local law firms but also those providing other professional services.

For the legal sector, this development has also highlighted a shortage of legally qualified individuals who choose to actually practice law in Northern Ireland. This was highlighted by the Law Society NI in its 2022 centenary report, which indicated that less than 50% of those on the Roll of Solicitors and qualified to practice hold a current practising certificate.

We need to drive the message out there that Belfast is a great place to practice law. The opportunities for both homegrown and international students are considerable. Our local universities have increased places for law students and diversified into complimentary programmes embracing law and technology. The impact of this will however take some time to filter through and for expertise and experience to develop.

Setting ourselves apart

Every employer thinks about what sets them apart and how they can attract the best people.

We firmly believe the quality of service we offer across all key legal areas and our ability to work with and on behalf of local business, individuals and overseas investors, sets us apart and creates better long term career prospects for local solicitors.

Over the years we have realised that nurturing talent starts at education level. We recognise the benefits of ongoing collaboration with higher education, such as Queens University, to help shape outcomes for our students and identify talent for the next chapter of our firm. Building valuable partnerships within the education sector is key.

We try to stay fresh. Having provided legal support to our vibrant film and TV industry, we have seen first-hand the huge contribution to our economy NI Screen and others in the creative and digital sector continue to make. This is an area of growth for our team and is attracting high interest from new recruits keen to specialise in this type of law.

Perhaps most important for us is to understand what our employees really need to do their job to their full potential. The package an employer offers now goes way beyond remuneration. We’ve placed a great deal of focus on how we support our people, how we communicate internally and externally and how we bring our values to life. As a locally-owned, independent company we can own and protect our culture. We see this as one of our most valuable assets.

Overall, we remain positive about meeting the recruitment challenge. Whilst it is more competitive than ever, we believe the people we are bringing on board are second to none.

We now think of the talent pool as something we can add to and enrich for everyone’s benefit.

A challenge – and an opportunity.