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Transitional assignments: experts in ever increasing demand

While this might be a well-established practice in certain European countries, and particularly so in France, in Switzerland we are seeing increased use of transitional assignments in the legal (or compliance) sector. They fulfil a number of objectives: organisational transformation, external growth, compliance with a new legislative context, crisis management, etc.

Assistance from lawyers is often necessary, but such support is often provided by a growing number of seasoned experts who are adapting to a specific remit within the very companies themselves and in closer proximity to the General Management and business teams. By definition, these transitional assignment experts can readily understand the daily workings of these organisations in order to best support them and their projects on an ad hoc basis.


The Bar: a vanishing requirement

The famous Bar was for a long time seen as the Holy Grail, a prerequisite for access to certain positions even those which were in-house. Nowadays, other equally prestigious qualifications may open the door to these roles (a law degree, dual training etc.). On the other hand, Bar admission clearly continues to be well regarded, particularly in the financial services sector and most of all within large private banks.


Salaries: occasionally decreasing budgets 

We will soon publish a new and detailed pay study covering the Tax, Legal and Compliance sectors in Romandy. An underlying trend from Senior to Managerial positions is clear to see: that being a plateau-effect or even erosion of salaries levels among senior staff. At the same time, individuals with particularly rare and specialist roles are seeing salary increases (for instance M&A, tax, competition).


The internationalization of required profiles

Large multinationals have always been extremely interested in international profiles, with in-depth knowledge of Common Law often being a prerequisite. This is much less often the case for SMEs. Traditionally, such companies have been much more inclined to recruit experts in Swiss law, offering detailed knowledge of the local economic and legal/ judicial fabric.

Nevertheless, for a number of years, a clear shift has been taking place: certain private Swiss banks and some industrial SMEs have altered the paradigm in favour of overseas education and experience, even going so far as to make it a condition for recruitment.

As a result, as we have already seen, required qualifications are therefore more diverse and more international (law degrees, MBAs etc.).


The requirement of Swiss residency 

Bearing in mind what is at stake in terms of confidentiality, industrial secrecy and even risks to reputations, it is increasingly necessary for legal staff to be resident in Switzerland, and often to have been so for several years. This trend is even more clear-cut among banks, certain leading industrial figures concentrating on innovation and a number of Swiss SMEs in possession of precious know-how.


The most challenging sectors to penetrate: horology, health and financial services

Certain sectors always require future managers to have a background in an identical or at least similar field.

In summary, there’s little hope, other than for the immediate competition. This is sometimes the case in luxury and horology sectors, as well as in health, international organizations, sports federations and financial services. There could be an obvious reason for all of this, given the

occasionally entrenched values and cultures characteristic of these environments and/ or technical barriers. For that reason, certain companies have opted for a radical change of tack given that the addition of new practices could be extremely valuable and effective.


Linguistic abilities that make the difference

As English has become a rare exception and is almost universally required, it is now German and/ or Swiss German which will enable talented candidates to set themselves apart. Above and beyond the ability to communicate, experience of drafting and negotiating contracts in German is an undeniable asset!

We could sometimes add the requirement of a law degree in German, along with in-depth knowledge of technical vocabulary.

This is even more so the case in certain sectors (cutting-edge industry, health, etc.) where there is a significant amount of interaction with the German market.


Markets within the market

There are large disparities within legal recruitment in Switzerland. On the one hand, there are numerous candidates (with “an eye on the market” or actively jobhunting) in a generally restricted market; on the other, there is a genuine battle for talented candidates with highly sought-after expertise.

Some examples would be: arbitration, competition law and tax experts etc.


New digital expertise 

New regulations, and particularly those which are the product of European law, lead to new roles within companies.

A key example which has been subject to a great deal of attention, is that of the DPO (Data Privacy Officer), a new domain for legal staff who must get up to speed with new subjects.


A sizeable “hidden market”

The icing on the cake in the Executive Search field, but it remains true that the legal sector is particularly affected by this grey area. There are several reasons why: there is a stronger tendency towards discretion and confidentiality, the widespread use of sector experts (Specialist head-hunters, the broadly official circles of legal directors, co-opting etc. 

Time and again, the most desirable positions require know-how and people skills.


Author: Charles du Pontavice, Managing Director, Morgan Philips Switzerland


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