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Feature Article

November 2015 Issue

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

by Charles Volkert, 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.

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


Our firm hasn’t given out salary increases to legal support staff in more than two years. Now that business is picking up, I’d like to ask for a raise and maybe a promotion to senior paralegal. What’s the best way to approach my boss?


That’s a great question, and we can understand why you ask. According to Robert Half’s Confidence Matters report, employees surveyed said they’d rather clean the house (32 percent), get a root canal (7 percent) or look for a new job (13 percent) than ask for a raise. To keep this common fear from stalling your career, here are some tips for boosting your paralegal salary.

  1. Report your accomplishments.
    If you haven’t already, list your achievements that occurred during the “no raise” period. Maybe you’ve helped automate processes that freed up previously non-billable time. Perhaps your work on new systems has received kudos. If you have a performance review with metrics, pull out your last one and note where you exceeded expectations. Whenever possible, estimate how much time and money you’ve saved the firm.
  2. Research the average paralegal salary.
    With starting salaries for legal jobs anticipated to increase by 3.1 percent in the coming year, it could help to consult the most recent Robert Half Legal Salary Guide to determine where you fall on the paralegal salary scale. Since professionals joining a firm may enter at a variety of experience levels, the Salary Guide reports salaries in ranges.
  3. Plan your approach.
    Practice your pitch (with a friend or mirror) to build up your confidence. Also, pick the right time. Don’t ask for a higher salary when your boss is about to leave for vacation, just came back from parental leave or is in the middle of a massive case. Rather, act shortly after you score a big win or major professional achievement.

With hiring heating up, firms know top legal employees have options. So take advantage of the opportunity and ask for a higher paralegal salary and promotion. After two years without a raise, you certainly deserve one, and you just may get that promotion, too.

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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