2016 Outlook: What’s Hot, What’s Not in Legal Jobs

By Charles A. Volkert III, Esq.

In an increasingly competitive hiring market, the pressure is on as law firms and companies attempt to fill legal jobs with top talent. To succeed, legal managers need to understand the latest hiring trends, recruit the best candidates and retain their best employees. The Robert Half Legal 2016 Salary Guide offers a wealth of information for employers looking to benchmark their compensation levels and prepare for what’s ahead in the legal profession.

Hiring and management trends

An uptick in mergers and acquisitions, as well as compliance activity, has led to a higher demand for specialized legal services. That trend, in turn, is leading to an increase in hiring to deal with the growing workload. New hires with experience in business matters, such as product expansion and labor disputes, are particularly in demand, as are contract managers, contract administrators and corporate paralegals.

But locating and hiring these individuals is not easy: Sixty-four percent of lawyers surveyed by Robert Half Legal said that finding skilled legal professionals is a challenge. Candidates may receive multiple offers and counteroffers, meaning that the pressure is on corporate departments and law office managers to put together competitive packages. While enticing salaries, top benefits and generous 401(k) contributions are important, candidates also seek work-life balance and career enhancements such as flextime, training and professional development.

Some firms remain fully staffed by bringing in consultants and interim workers with specialized skills. This is a cost-effective and flexible way to add staffing support for intermittent projects, such as eDiscovery

Retention is also key. Legal professionals want to love their jobs. Aside from compensation or bonuses, having challenging work or a variety of assignments is the greatest incentive for professionals to stay in legal jobs, cited by 39 percent of lawyers who were interviewed by Robert Half Legal.

As baby boomers begin to retire, many employers are preparing for impending vacancies with succession planning. Besides filling senior roles, succession planning shows less-tenured legal professionals a possible in-house career trajectory and entices them to stay — a great retention strategy in an improving economy.

In-demand practice areas, positions and skills

Litigation is the practice area expected to generate the greatest number of legal jobs in the next two years, according to 33 percent of lawyers who were surveyed — although the amount of activity in this field will fluctuate depending on the economic environment. Managers are particularly interested in filling legal jobs with professionals who have backgrounds in insurance defense, personal injury, medical malpractice, employment law and commercial litigation.

Other in-demand areas include general business and commercial law, healthcare, real estate and intellectual property. Expanding companies, evolving compliance regulations, and changes and growth in the healthcare industry are all playing a huge role in shaping the legal profession’s future.

The very definitions of some legal jobs and positions are also changing. Nearly 70 percent of lawyers who were interviewed by Robert Half Legal said hybrid paralegal/legal secretary positions are more common today than they were two years ago. As these hybrid positions become more common in the legal profession, more hiring managers are seeking versatile candidates with knowledge of compliance, contract and lease administration, and eDiscovery.

Depending on the market and industry, some employers look for more than legal expertise in new legal support professionals. Other must-haves include: 

  • Excellent communication skills, especially writing
  • Bilingualism, especially English-Spanish
  • Flexibility
  • Resourcefulness and initiative
  • Technological proficiency, especially in Microsoft Office and document management software

To succeed in a changing legal environment, law office managers need to understand where the legal profession is moving. To access helpful resources including an online salary calculator, visit the Robert Half Legal Salary Center