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Is the Legal Market for Talent Brightening?

Is the Legal Market for Talent Brightening

“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

David Cowen of The Cowen Group, which provides executive placement and consulting services to the legal community (and who consults with the LexisNexis eDiscovery business), remains unconvinced.

“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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Photo: Flickr, James Jordan, (CC BY-ND 2.0)

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About Frank Strong

Frank Strong
Frank Strong is the communications director for the LexisNexis software division located on NC State’s Centennial Campus in Raleigh. In this capacity, he leads communications efforts in support of software products for law practice and law department management and also litigation tools – across large law, small law and corporate counsel segments. With more than 15 years of experience in the high-tech sector, Strong previously served as director of public relations for Vocus, which developed marketing, PR and media monitoring software. He has held multiple roles both in-house with corporations, ranging from startups to global organizations, and has also endured the rigors of billable hours, having completed gigs at PR firms including the top 10 global firm Hill & Knowlton. A veteran of two year-long deployments, Strong has concurrently served in uniform in reserve components of the military for more than 20 years, initially as an enlisted Marine and later as an infantry officer in the Army National Guard. Strong holds a BA in Film and TV production from Worcester State University, an M.A. in Public Communication from American University, and an M.B.A. from Marymount University. He is a PADI-certified Master Scuba Diver and holds a USPA "B" skydiving license.