5 Hiring and Salary Trends to Expect in 2018

By Jamy J. Sullivan, JD

When it comes to hiring, legal managers won’t have much success without knowing which staffing and compensation trends are currently shaping the job market. The 2018 Robert Half Legal Salary Guide provides an overview of the factors that will impact this field in the upcoming year, as well as salary information for nearly 50 legal roles. Here are five hiring and salary trends you need to know for the year ahead: 

1. Candidates expect offers sooner rather than later 

 How long does it take to hire for a staff-level legal position? It’s an average of six weeks, according to a survey published in our Salary Guide. What’s more, the timeline stretches out to 11 weeks when filling a management role.  

It’s one thing to be diligent. But when you take that long to hire employees, you risk losing your top picks, especially mid-career legal professionals with in-demand skills. A Robert Half survey of workers found that 39 percent of respondents lose interest if the hiring process drags on, and 33 percent would question the employer’s ability to make other decisions if they can’t make timely hiring choices. 
To land legal talent instead of letting them get away, accelerate the hiring process. If you’re really interested in a top candidate, consider making a job offer on the spot — or within 24–48 hours of the interview — that’s contingent upon reference and background checks. And be ready to negotiate compensation by figuring out in advance how much wiggle room you have for the salary and benefits package.  

2. Some practice areas are hotter than others 

Litigation, general business/commercial law, real estate, regulatory/compliance and healthcare are in-demand practice areas for 2018. And when demand goes up for these legal specialists, competition for them is bound to follow. And that means salaries will have to rise. 

This year, our salary guide lists starting compensation by percentiles. To recruit or retain experienced lawyers and legal support staff in these hot practice areas, you may need to offer wages in the 75th to 95th percentile ranges. Signing bonuses also help. 

3. Hire for corporate culture 

 The turnover rate in legal departments and law firms continues to rise. And, as many managers are only too aware, it’s costly — in both time and resources — to fill vacancies. That’s why partners and managers are working harder to ensure potential employees will be a good fit before making an offer. People who don’t get along with colleagues likely won’t stay long on the job. What’s more, a bad hire has an ugly way of bringing down office morale. 
To avoid making a bad hire, some legal employers are asking candidates to take a personality assessment as part of the recruitment process. That’s not a bad idea, although make sure any testing you conduct is both legal and relevant to the hiring process. Another way to assess employees’ potential fit is to use a temp-to-hire strategy, which allows you to “test drive” candidates and observe first-hand their fit with your culture. This method may work best for staff such as legal assistants, paralegals, law clerks and contract administrators. 

4. Legal professionals are stressed out 

A Robert Half study on workplace happiness found that of employees in 13 fields, legal professionals came in fifth for on-the-job happiness and fourth in terms of interest in their work. That’s not too shabby. However, they ranked themselves dead last when it came to low stress. 
There’s no question that the legal environment is fast-paced and demanding. To help your employees relax and maintain a healthy work-life balance, offer a basket of in-demand benefits. According to the HR professionals we surveyed for this year’s Salary Guide, the most common perks in businesses today are a flexible work schedule (62 percent), regular social events (39 percent) and telecommuting (34 percent). Also helpful are a compressed workweek, free food and on-site amenities. If these and other features aren’t in your workplace, consider adding them. 

5. Multifunctional support staff are in demand 

Clients are still looking for cost-effective legal services, meaning the need for hybrid or blended paralegal/legal secretary roles are on the rise. Firms and departments are increasingly relying on these professionals to perform multiple duties, as they work at lower rates than attorneys. That doesn’t mean these specialists will settle for below-average wages, though. To find out what starting salaries will get them to say “yes” to the job, use our Salary Calculator to customize results for your city. 

To make sure your law firm or legal department isn’t behind the curve, get to know the latest employment and salary trends. This knowledge can help you recruit better, hire faster and retain more of your top legal talent.