Legal hiring will increase, survey finds

The legal field is expected to see an increase in hiring in the months ahead, with litigation driving the greatest job growth. According to Robert Half Legal's State of Legal Hiring research, nearly 6 in 10 U.S.-based lawyers (59%) said their law firm or company plans to expand their legal teams in the second half of 2019, up 12 percentage points from the last time the survey was conducted. More than one-third of lawyers (36%) anticipate staffing only vacated positions, while 2% said they would neither staff vacated positions nor create new ones. Only 1% expect staffing reductions.

More than one-quarter of lawyers (27%) predict litigation will generate the most employment opportunities during the next six months, followed by general business/commercial law, which received 21% of the response, and privacy, data security and information law (15%).

Within the litigation specialty, commercial litigation is expected to yield the greatest number of legal jobs, according to 44% of lawyers surveyed. Securities and corporate governance ranked second, with 33% of the respondents expecting to hire in that area, followed by employment law (31%).

View an infographic of the legal employment market for the second half of 2019.

Other Research Findings:

- Nearly 9 in 10 lawyers (87%) said finding skilled legal professionals is somewhat or very challenging.

 - Almost half of respondents (47%) said that a shortage of qualified candidates is the greatest challenge their law firm/company faces when hiring, up 3 percentage points from the last time the survey was conducted.

- The top full-time positions being added by law firms/companies in the second half of 2019 are lawyers (80%), legal secretaries (60%) and paralegals (45%).

- Aside from legal knowledge, practice area expertise and industry/sector knowledge are the two most important criteria to employers when hiring lawyers.

- Among those planning to expand their legal teams, 21% said that 11%-20% of the open positions at their law firm/company will be staffed on a temporary, project or consulting basis, while 18% plan to staff 1%-10% of vacant roles on an interim basis.

- Three-fourths of lawyers (75%) are concerned about losing top performers to other opportunities in the next six months.

- Other than compensation or bonuses, lawyers cited professional development opportunities (33%), flexible work arrangements (29%) and challenging work or variety of assignments (18%) as the top incentives for retaining employees.

"Class action filings, regulatory requirements and cybersecurity challenges continue to grow and are intensifying competition for specialized legal professionals with litigation, compliance and data privacy backgrounds," said Jamy Sullivan, executive director of Robert Half Legal. "Many law firms and companies are reassessing compensation packages to offer competitive pay and bonuses that in-demand candidates are seeking from prospective employers."

Law firms and companies also recognize the importance of improving retention strategies, Sullivan added. "By expanding professional development programs and offering perks to enhance work-life balance, employers are better able to stem attrition and boost employee engagement."

Lawyers were asked, "Which one of the following practice areas will offer the greatest number of job opportunities at your law firm or company in the second half of 2019?" Their responses:*

Litigation

27%

General business or commercial law

21%

Privacy, data security and information law

15%

Ethics and corporate governance

9%

Intellectual property

7%

Regulatory or compliance

6%

Healthcare

4%

Real estate

3%

Other

4%

Don't know

5%

 

101%

*Responses do not total 100% due to rounding.

Lawyers were also asked, "Which of the following areas of litigation, if any, will offer the greatest number of job opportunities at your law firm or company?" Their responses:**

Commercial litigation

44%

Securities and corporate governance

33%

Employment

31%

Insurance defense

28%

Intellectual property

23%

Class actions

18%

Other

5%

Don't know

7%

**Multiple responses were allowed.

Survey Methodology  

The online survey was developed by Robert Half Legal and conducted by a leading independent research firm. It is based on responses from more than 200 lawyers in the United States who work full time at law firms with 20 or more employees or in corporate legal departments at companies with 1,000 or more employees. Respondents possess five-plus years' experience in the legal profession and are involved in managing the hiring of legal personnel.

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