A Look at the 2017 Legal Job Market

By Robert Half Legal

Whether you’re seeking your first or 15th job in the legal profession, it pays to be informed — literally. Here’s a snapshot of the 10 trends that will shape your future salary, as well as other aspects of the employment picture you should know about:

1. Hiring is up.  Many law firms and corporate legal departments are expanding their workforce to address business growth. In our most recent employment trends survey, 84 percent of the U.S. attorneys interviewed said they expect their firms or companies to hire staff during the first half of 2017. This is a slight jump from July to December 2016 (82 percent) and 12 months ago (78 percent).

2. Wages are expected to rise. According to the Robert Half 2017 Legal Salary Guide, the industry is expected to see a 3.6 percent overall salary growth. The average lawyer salary will increase by 4.7 percent, while the rise is even higher for legal specialists: 5.1 percent. Growth in other legal areas, while more modest, is still healthy — ranging from 2.3 percent for legal secretaries to 3.8 for in-house counsel.

3. Litigation is hot. If you have experience in this practice area, your skills are in high demand. Forty percent of attorneys interviewed for the employment trends survey said litigation will drive job growth in the first half of 2017. Digging deeper, respondents identified commercial litigation as the subspecialty that will net the most legal jobs. A greater demand means a salary increase for these legal specialists.

4. Tout your business knowledge. Although litigation leads the pack, employers also seek expertise in other areas. Our employment trends survey shows general business/commercial law will also result in a number of new hires, followed by real estate, family, regulatory or compliance, labor and employment, and intellectual property law.

5. It pays to negotiate. If you have sought-after expertise and years of experience, you may not want to accept the first compensation package a potential employer offers. Think bigger. But before you begin negotiating your paralegal or lawyer salary, find out what other legal specialists in your city are making by consulting the Robert Half Legal 2017 Salary Guide and Salary Calculator.

6. Don’t discount healthcare. Even with the uncertainty surrounding the Affordable Care Act, healthcare is consistently in the top five fastest-growing industries nationwide. So if you have a legal experience in this field, you can expect a very competitive paralegal or lawyer salary.

7. Litigation support leads the pack. Someone has to supervise a law firm’s burgeoning workload in litigation and eDiscovery, which is why litigation support directors with 10+ years’ experience can expect an 8.9 percent salary increase this year — the sharpest increase of the more than 100 legal positions we feature in our 2017 salary guide. And since professionals with just one year of experience in this hot sector could see a 7.3 percent salary boost, job seekers should strongly consider paralegal education or temporary work in this specialty.

8. Globalization moving to center stage. As the world’s economies become increasingly more interconnected, there’s a growing demand for legal specialists who have international law experience and can speak more than one language. Similarly, an attorney who’s licensed to practice in multiple states can expect greater opportunities and salary growth in 2017.

9. Alternative fees continue to gain ground. Clients want cost predictability, and this desire drives the widespread adoption of nontraditional payment options: flat fees, contingency fees, subscriptions and the like. In a related trend, the traditional lawyer salary based on hourly billing is being replaced by compensation based on these alternative fee arrangements.

10. Technology is reshaping the practice of law. The future law office will increasingly rely on big data, cloud services and artificial intelligence to provide legal services. Specialists who are adept at using technology to do research, conduct eDiscovery and improve clients’ experiences are able to command a higher lawyer or paralegal salary. Tech advances also make possible innovations like the virtual law firm.

Legal job seekers today can anticipate a healthy salary. To grow your career, get to know the latest employment trends — and then take advantage of all the opportunities that lie ahead.