“The job market for newly minted associates is showing signs of improvement,” according to a telephone survey of 350 attorneys which was recently published by Robert Half Legal.
Thirty-two percent of attorneys interviewed said their organization plans to “increase slightly” or “increase significantly” the number of entry-level lawyers hired in the next 12 months.
An announcement for the survey results noted the economy is gaining strength and “law firms and corporate legal departments are expanding their teams to pursue new business opportunities.” The survey is yet another along a lengthening stream of studies, from corporate counsel and law firms alike, that suggest a brightening outlook.
However, most analysis still comes wrapped in an abundance of caveats from cautious optimism to the new normal. Indeed this Robert Half Legal survey found 60% of attorneys expect headcount to remain flat.
Unconvinced in Executive Placement
“Twenty-nine percent of firms reported a slight increase in hiring, but without quantifying, it is difficult to know what this means,” he wrote in response to questions emailed to him about the survey. “If 100 firms are adding an additional 1-2 entry-level associates, I don’t think this has a big impact on the market or the direction of the legal industry.”
“In fact, anecdotally we are hearing the opposite. Firms are much more interested in making selective hires of experienced attorneys with training, knowledge, and deep expertise in specific areas of the law. Our clients specifically have a healthy appetite for experience talent in the privacy, security, governance and eDiscovery practice. We also know finance specializations are a growth area in the transactional practices.”
Getting Ahead of Trends
The new Robert Half Study ever so slightly widens cracks of opportunity for hiring when compared to a similar study of 200 attorneys the firm release last year. In that survey, 29% of attorneys expected their organizations to increase hiring (overall, rather than just entry level) through the remainder of 2014. Litigation and specifically insurance defense and commercial practice areas were called out as bright spots.
Other recent studies also seem corroborate the overall trend line in legal hiring. In an article on the survey, Law360 noted similar surveys pointing to renewing optimism; Lawyer Survey Reveals Brightening Associate Job Market:
“On March 4, the National Association for Law Placement released the results of its own report, which found that firms’ entry-level recruiting is steadily rebounding from the recession,” the publication reported.
Whether the legal hiring market is or isn’t recovering, the overall industry is clearly evolving, which may represent future opportunities. Mr. Cowen points to machine learning and artificial intelligence when he recommends aspiring associates aim to get ahead of the trends. He believes privacy, security and information governance “is where the new battles will be fought.”
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