Litigation Fuels Demand as Firms Deal With Hiring Challenges

By Robert Half July 18, 2017 at 6:06pm

With litigation leading job opportunities in the legal field, a profound majority of lawyers across the United States (84 percent) are optimistic about their firms’ growth and are looking to hire.

But as America’s lawyers ramp up recruiting efforts in the second half of 2017, they are faced with shoring up their legal teams in the face of increasing competition, according to a new survey by Robert Half Legal.

The research also showed that anticipated hiring for the remainder of the year will outpace more recent trends, with one third of lawyers (33 percent) interviewed saying they are planning to hire new legal staff in the second half of 2017, compared with 25 percent six months ago and 31 percent one year ago. Fifty-one percent of lawyers said they plan to only fill vacant posts in the next six months.

Other key takeaways:

  • Nearly seven in 10 lawyers (67 percent) surveyed said they face challenges finding skilled legal professionals
  • Forty-three percent are concerned about losing personnel to competitors in the next six months

This illustrates the importance of staying on top of legal hiring trends and in-demand practice areas — and shows how vital it is to have a recruitment strategy that appeals to high performers.

Hot practice areas

Litigation continues to grow among other business opportunities; it was cited by 35 percent of surveyed lawyers as the top practice area expected to drive hiring at law firms and corporate legal departments during the next six months. Five other areas were noted as well:

  • Litigation (35 percent)
  • General business/commercial law (17 percent)
  • Real estate (12 percent)
  • Labor and employment (7 percent)
  • Healthcare (3 percent)
  • Regulatory or compliance (2 percent)

Hot areas of litigation

With commercial and employment litigation areas at the top of the list, hiring managers are looking for associates and paralegals with background in these areas:

  • Insurance defense (35 percent)
  • Commercial litigation (23 percent)
  • Personal injury (17 percent)
  • Employment (14 percent)
  • Personal/family law (4 percent)
  • Medical malpractice (3 percent)

Companies are hiring experienced managers to take on more work in-house and reduce their spending on outside law firms. Of course, that means firms will likely be targeting some of the same top candidates in their searches to fill the roles.

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Wanted: specialized experience

Even under the best circumstances, finding the right person for the job can be like searching for the proverbial needle in the haystack. Demand for candidates with the hottest skills and backgrounds exceeds the current supply, which elevates the challenge.

The most marketable associates and paralegals have five-plus years’ experience in a high-demand industry or sector, the survey found. Ideal candidates possess technical proficiency and business knowledge and can ramp up quickly. Because law firms and legal departments are recruiting highly skilled specialists from the same talent pool, lateral hiring is expected to increase in the coming months.

Turn perks into power-ups

Thirty-six percent of lawyers surveyed said that, aside from compensation or bonuses, challenging work or variety of assignments provides the greatest incentive for legal professionals to remain with an employer. Flexible work arrangements ranked second, receiving 29 percent of the survey response, followed by professional development opportunities, at 15 percent.

Beyond enhancing salaries, many organizations are emphasizing workplace incentives — including flextime, condensed workweeks, challenging work assignments and professional development opportunities — to keep their best people and attract top talent. 

To handle increases in workloads, aside from making new full-time hires, organizations are also using flexible staffing approaches, such as hiring legal support professionals to perform hybrid roles and employing temporary or project professionals. In addition, there is more temporary-to-hire activity, and that is absorbing some of those workers who were previously available for hire.

When it comes to legal hiring, time is of the essence. No matter how good your benefits and perks are, sitting on the fence about which candidate to hire can end up in losing all your top choices to other, faster-moving firms. When evaluating job candidates, you must move quickly and offer incentives top candidates want to avoid losing top talent to other organizations.

For more information on legal hiring trends, and tools for addressing recruiting challenges, check out our employer resources page.

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