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Feature Article

August 2015 Issue

From Salary Range to Employee Happiness:
Five Employment Trends in the Legal Field

by Charles Volkert, Esq.

It’s a job seekers’ market for in-demand legal professionals. These lawyers and support staff can expect an excellent legal job offer in a competitive salary range. To hire and retain your firm’s superstars, here are five trends that are important to understand:

  1. Starting salaries are rising

    When you find an excellent candidate for a legal job, don’t delay making a strong offer. The best legal professionals are hired quickly, and may even be entertaining several offers. Starting pay for U.S. legal professionals is expected to increase 3 percent in 2015, according to Robert Half Legal’s 2015 Salary Guide. To stay ahead of the curve, research the latest salary range before you make a formal offer. Use our Salary Calculator to adjust the numbers for your city.

  2. Technology is driving business

    Technology has transformed the way the world does business. Law firms are increasingly relying on cloud software, mobile apps, e-filing, videoconferencing and online subscriptions to reduce costs and offer competitive pricing to their clients, according to Robert Half Legal’s Future Law Office research. These and other advances in legal technology have allowed legal professionals to be more accessible to clients and colleagues, and complete tasks and assignments more quickly and at a lower cost.

    Legal job candidates who are well versed in technology will expect top compensation, but they are pivotal if your firm or company wants to take full advantage of the newest legal applications. Also encourage existing staff to keep on top of tech advances through continuing legal education. And consider asking members of your IT department to conduct lunch-hour workshops to update your team on topics such as useful legal apps, remote access, security risks and social media best practices.

  3. Hybrid workers make good financial sense

    To better meet client and company needs, legal organizations are asking legal secretaries and paralegals to perform a wider scope of tasks. In fact, blended paralegal-legal secretary roles are growing in popularity. Almost two-thirds (64 percent) of lawyers interviewed by Robert Half Legal said hybrid paralegal-legal secretary positions are more common today than they were two years ago.

    Consider including in your job postings a desire for tech-savvy candidates with previous law firm experience (at least three years), proficiency in eDiscovery, a bachelor’s degree and certification from an American Bar Association-approved program. Also seek out applicants who would be comfortable supporting four to six lawyers. They’ll command a higher salary range, but the investment will be worth it.

  4. Counteroffers don’t work

    When valued members of your legal team give notice, your first instinct may be to entice them to stay with a more attractive counteroffer. This may be an unwise move. The reason they sought another legal job is usually not about money, but rather poor work-life balance, lack of in-house advancement opportunities or desire for different challenges. A bigger paycheck won’t resolve those issues, and chances are they won’t stay for the long term. When skilled employees hand in their resignation, the best course of action is to let them go with your best wishes.

    It’s best to reward key employees with more money before they consider going elsewhere. According to a recent survey, legal professionals’ preferred retention incentive is a raise or bonus. Still, money isn’t everything to all professionals. If you discover that valuable members of your team are becoming disillusioned about their jobs, talk to them about what changes in their job responsibilities might be made to entice them to stay before they decide to resign.

  5. Lawyers want meaningful work

    A lucrative compensation package is important to many attorneys, yet a high salary range doesn’t necessarily equal greater job satisfaction. According to a recent study published in the George Washington Law Review, the common denominator among satisfied lawyers surveyed was their sense of “autonomy, relatedness to others, [and] feelings of competence.” Also telling was a finding that lawyers were happiest when they were able to choose their job for “internally motivated reasons,” meaning, essentially, from the heart, as opposed to external pressures to make more money. When possible, play to this desire to work on projects that align with staff’s personal values by allowing your legal team to choose which assignments they want to handle, including pro bono work.

In today’s competitive hiring environment, recruiting and retaining the best legal talent is more important than ever. Stay on top of the trends, and you’ll be poised to attract the sharpest legal minds to help your organization grow and thrive.

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


I’m a paralegal, and I haven’t thought about looking for a new job in 10 years. But with more law firms and corporations now hiring, I’m interested in making a career move. What factors should I consider when looking for a legal job in today’s market?


For the reason you mention, your timing is good to think about finding a new legal job. According to a Robert Half Legal survey of lawyers, 29 percent of respondents said their firms or companies plan to add positions in the first half of 2015. But before you draft your resignation letter and invest significant time on job boards, you should be aware of current trends in legal hiring. There’s been quite a bit of movement in the past decade. Here are a few factors to keep in mind when considering a career move and climbing the ladder.

Paralegal salary
While there has been a modest increase in paralegal salaries, starting compensation hasn’t quite returned to prerecession levels, according to the Robert Half Legal 2015 Salary Guide. To figure out what sort of salary you can expect, use resources like the salary guide and our Salary Calculator to determine average starting salaries for legal positions in your area.

Many employers are willing to negotiate factors besides salary. These include career development opportunities and flexible work arrangements that can help improve work-life balance. So, during a negotiation for your starting paralegal salary, don’t forget to ask about other perks.

Promising practice areas
Litigation continues to reign supreme in the legal field, especially in subspecialties such as insurance defense, commercial law and employment law. General business and corporate law are not far behind. If you have expertise in these and other in-demand areas, you likely will have more legal job options.

Client demands
Clients have more options for counsel than ever, meaning competition is high among firms. Because of this, client-driven demands and services are reshaping the business models of legal organizations. If you have demonstrated client management skills, highlight that ability on your cover letter and resume.

Employer expectations
According to the Robert Half Legal 2015 Salary Guide, employer expectations have increased for paralegals. You’ll find that more doors open with a four-year degree and certificate of completion from an ABA-approved paralegal education program. These qualifications could also help you negotiate a higher paralegal salary.

Highly sought experience and skills
Firms and companies are looking for seasoned legal professionals with experience in compliance, contract and lease negotiation, and eDiscovery. You’ll also need to be at the top of your tech game, demonstrating proficiency in Microsoft Office, case management systems and billing. If you haven’t kept abreast of changes in law office technology, you may want to take a few refresher courses before sending out your resume.

The value of recruiters
Since you’ve been out of the job-search loop for a while, you may find it beneficial to work with a legal staffing firm. Specialized recruiters can help you polish your legal resume, find a legal job that aligns with your career goals and professional interests, and negotiate a competitive paralegal salary.

It’s a big step to launch a search after being with the same firm for so long, but if you’re looking to change jobs, now is a good time to make the move. Do some research, refresh your skills and spruce up your resume, and you’ll increase your chances of landing a rewarding legal job and paralegal salary.

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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