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Feature Article

November 2014 Issue

2015 Forecast: Hiring and Salary Trends for Legal Jobs

by Charles Volkert, Esq.

Whether you’re gearing up to recruit or benchmarking best practices to lift retention rates, the Robert Half Legal 2015 Salary Guide is a good place to start. With data for more than 100 legal jobs, as well as a comprehensive overview of paralegal and lawyer salary trends, the guide is an indispensible tool for legal managers.

Here are the top five trends we’re seeing for the coming year:

  1. Hiring continues to accelerate. In an improving economy, clients are demanding more services. This is driving many law firms to augment their service offerings in high-growth practice areas, especially in compliance, healthcare and commercial law. Also enlarging their staff are corporate legal departments — not only to control external costs but also to keep sensitive matters in-house. And because workloads are increasing everywhere, there is a greater demand also for legal support staff and project-based employees.
    Since experienced candidates are receiving multiple offers, law firm management no longer has the luxury of mulling over a recruitment decision. Managers also need to work hard to entice their number-one picks with competitive compensation packages and non-wage perks like job training, flexible work schedules and remote options.
  2. Hot practices areas command the highest salaries. The list of the most sought-after specializations in the legal industry is topped by litigation, which will continue to create legal jobs in insurance defense, medical malpractice, commercial litigation and employment law. The salary for a senior-level litigation job, such as a litigation support manager, is expected to rise by almost 5 percent in 2015. Another hot area is business and corporate law, particularly compliance. Salary ranges for compliance directors, for example, are projected to rise 5.2 percent next year. Increased workloads surrounding the Affordable Care Act have led to a demand for lawyers and paralegals with expertise in healthcare.
  3. Competition is fierce for experienced workers. The most in-demand candidates possess four-plus years of experience in high-growth areas. This means that while firms are still hiring entry-level associates and junior legal secretaries, their salaries are not growing as quickly as those with longer work histories.
    Attorneys must demonstrate proven excellence in managing client portfolios as research shows firms are focusing on improving service levels and driving new business. For paralegals, proficiency in billing and case management software are imperative, as well as experience in growing areas such as compliance and eDiscovery.
    Experience encompasses more than legal and technical know-how. Employers are also looking for stellar communication skills, which are vital for problem solving, critical thinking and fostering long-lasting relationships with clients. Being bilingual or multilingual and having a strong customer service orientation are other major assets.
  4. Educational requirements are expanding. As client needs grow and firms take on global business, it’s becoming more important than ever for lawyers to have additional educational credentials. When hiring patent lawyers, for example, firms want to see candidates with an engineering or science degree in addition to a JD. Top corporate attorneys also possess an MBA and years of finance experience.
    For paralegals, more and more companies expect previous practice area experience, a four-year degree and a certification of completion from an ABA-approved paralegal education program.
  5. Legal support professionals are doing more. Legal jobs for support staff are becoming more demanding. To cut costs, firms are relying on paralegals more than ever to fulfill certain job functions once performed by lawyers. Salary trends reflect this increase in duties: The base pay of a paralegal or legal assistant with at least four years of experience is expected to rise 3.3 percent to 4.5 percent in 2015.

A related trend in legal jobs is the rise of the hybrid paralegal/legal secretary. A recent Robert Half Legal poll of 200 lawyers reported that 64 percent of respondents said such blended positions are more common now than two years ago. To support this trend, some colleges and paralegal associations now have formal programs to prepare these hybrid support staff.

In today’s legal landscape, where new practice areas are emerging and the competition for skilled talent is fierce, successful firms and legal departments need to be aware of hiring and compensation trends to stay on top. By consulting the 2015 Salary Guide, you can arm yourself with the knowledge your organization needs to stay ahead of the game.

Charles A. Volkert is executive director of Robert Half Legal®, a leading staffing service specializing in the placement of attorneys, paralegals, legal administrators and other legal professionals with law firms and corporate legal departments. The company also offers a full suite of legal staffing and consulting services. Based in Menlo Park, Calif., Robert Half Legal has offices in major North American and global markets.

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Question & Answer

November 2014 Issue


I’m in the midst of a job search and some firms are asking for my paralegal salary requirements or salary history along with a cover letter and resume. Do I really have to give a number or disclose what I’ve been making when applying for paralegal jobs?


Money is a sticky subject, and negotiating your paralegal salary with a future employer is fraught with pitfalls.

There are two ways to approach this conundrum. One, you can disclose your present paralegal salary or what you hope to earn upfront, hoping this information won’t scare away any potential legal job offers or lead you to leave money on the table. The other approach is to avoid specifics so you have more leverage to negotiate later on. Let’s examine the two approaches:

Be candid about your paralegal salary requirement

Ideally, money wouldn’t even come up until after you’ve been offered the job. But look at it from the hiring managers’ perspective: They don’t want to waste time bringing someone in for interviews, only to have their top candidate decline because the salary was too low. They’re also keeping an eye on the bottom line: If they can get a great candidate for less than what they were prepared to pay, that’s more money they can spend on other needs.

Despite the perils, being open about your salary history can work to your advantage. One, you’d be following instructions, which hiring managers like to see. Two, just as you wouldn’t apply for legal jobs that paid much less than what you’re currently making, letting them know upfront what you require can automatically take you out of contention for lower-paying ones.

If you decide to reveal your salary requirement, be sure to do your research beforehand so you know about how much a paralegal with your level of experience and in your location typically makes. The Robert Half Legal Salary Guide is an excellent source of information for employment trends and salary ranges for over 100 legal jobs. You could also fine-tune the range by plugging in your data, including the city, into the Salary Calculator.

Don’t give a salary history

Potential employers are serious about application instructions. Thus, simply ignoring the part about including your current salary could immediately take you out of the running for that job. A better approach is to comply — but without being precise. Here’s how:

  1. Don’t put down one number. Try something more broad, such as giving a range or “entry-level” salary.
  2. Instead of listing a below-market salary, use the situation to your advantage: “My current salary is below the market average, which is one reason I’m looking for new opportunities.”
  3. Focus on the position and next steps instead of money. In your cover letter, write: “I hesitate to discuss salary until I know more about the position’s requirements and your company. However, I’d be happy to discuss wages and benefits after an interview and if I receive a job offer.”

Whichever way you decide to go, don’t disregard directions in the job post. However, there’s no need to spell out a precise paralegal salary and make demands about perks and work conditions, either. And keep in mind that misrepresenting the amount of your present or past paralegal salary is a bad career move. Not only is doing so unethical, but it could come back to haunt you when human resources does reference checks or due diligence.

View All Tips

Submit a career-related question to Charles A. Volkert, Esq., executive director of Robert Half Legal, a leading staffing service specializing in the placement of attorneys, paralegals, legal administrators and other legal professionals with law firms and corporate legal departments. Charles will answer one question each month!

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