Legal Hiring in 2019: What Managers Need to Know

The start of a new year is a great time to hire new legal staff. If you’re like many law firms and corporate legal departments in the United States, that’s good news, as litigation and other specialty areas are driving organizations into hiring mode in the beginning of
In a recent Robert Half Legal survey of more than 200 lawyers, 47% of respondents said their law office or company plans to grow its legal team in the first half of 2019. But 91% of hiring managers said it is challenging to find the skilled legal professionals they seek.

The Need for Specialized Experience

Hiring is brisk throughout the legal field, but professionals with a background in financial services, health care, real estate, and technology are especially in demand, as are those who have worked in litigation or business/commercial law. Current and anticipated increases in regulations—both in the United States and internationally—are prompting employers to seek staff who specialize in compliance administration and data privacy. And with Baby Boomer retirements reaching a peak, managers are on the lookout for attorneys and legal support staff to handle the heavier workload related to taxes and trusts.

Wanted: Tech-Savvy Support Staff

The legal field is in the midst of a rapid digital transformation, and companies need employees who can keep up with the change. Paralegals and secretaries should have not only solid legal knowledge but also the ability—and desire—to harness the power of the latest technical tools. Top candidates have advanced skills in eDiscovery, document management, process automation, legal databases, and online research. They should also understand the issues and best practices around data security.
When you come across job candidates with strong digital and interpersonal skills, you should act quickly to bring them on board, as they likely have attracted the attention of other local employers. This doesn’t mean cutting corners, though. Rather, shorten the timeline for vetting and interviewing, then make a job offer contingent on a successful reference check.

Hot Practice Areas

In the survey linked above, 32% of respondents say litigation will be the most in-demand practice area for the first half of 2019. Within this practice area, companies seek specialists in commercial litigation, insurance defense, and employment litigation. Because skilled litigators and support staff are in such demand, their compensation is equally high. For example, a litigation support/eDiscovery specialist/analyst with 1 to 2 years of experience has a salary midpoint (or median national salary) of $63,250, while a manager with 7 to 9 years of experience can expect to be paid $111,750.
Other practice areas anticipated to see a rapid rate of hiring include privacy, data security and information law (12%), general business/commercial law (11%), and ethics/corporate governance (11%).

Benefits Get an Upgrade

Competitive salary alone is often not enough to land highly skilled job candidates, who value a well-rounded package of benefits, perks, and incentives. In addition to medical insurance and paid time off, top job candidates want these extras the most:

  • Retirement savings plans
  • Flexible work schedules
  • Telecommuting options
  • Compressed workweek
  • Annual/biannual bonuses
  • Profit-sharing plan
  • Sign-on bonus

Uptick for In-House and Flexible Hiring

While companies still outsource some work to third-party providers, our research shows general counsel offices across the nation are bringing projects back home. This “insourcing” has caused an increase in hiring for contract administrators, litigation support personnel, and commercial law specialists to handle the additional workload.
However, in-house doesn’t mean all workers are full-time employees. To handle short-term projects and seasonal demands, law firms and legal departments are taking full advantage of a blended staffing model. Some examples of onetime tasks include compliance training, workplace investigations, and HR projects. Using interim legal professionals is also an optimal way for a company to assess skills and organizational culture fit before inviting them to join the team on a full-time basis.

The Importance of Employee Retention

The best hiring strategies mean little if they aren’t coupled with equally strong retention efforts. With skilled professionals in such high demand, you need to make sure they’re happy at work and satisfied in their role. Such measures include:

  • A comprehensive onboarding process
  • Regular check-ins and transparent communication
  • Acknowledgment for good work, from verbal recognition to cash bonuses
  • Generous training and professional development programs

In a tough hiring market, you need the latest salary data and employment trends to make informed decisions and competitive offers.

Jamy J. Sullivan is executive director of Robert Half Legal, a premier legal staffing service specializing in the placement of attorneys, paralegals, legal administrators, and other legal professionals with law firms and corporate legal departments. Based in Menlo Park, Calif., Robert Half Legal has offices in major North American and global markets and offers a full suite of legal staffing and consulting solutions.

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