Legal Hiring Outlook and Hot Practice Areas

By Robert Half on January 5, 2016 at 11:32am

Hiring in the legal field is accelerating, according to the Robert Half Legal Salary Guide. The heightened competition for skilled legal professionals has U.S. employers prepared to increase starting salaries for law jobs by 3.1 percent, on average, in 2016 compared to 2015.

Rising caseloads and the need to plan for future growth in an improving economy are two key reasons many law firms are adding positions. Corporate legal departments, meanwhile, are expanding the number of law jobs in their organizations so they can handle more matters in-house and keep outside counsel costs down.

Fast-growing practice areas also have many law firms and companies working to fill more law jobs. Following are some of the hottest practice areas, along with related roles, that will have legal organizations searching for specialized legal talent throughout year to come:


Thirty-three percent of U.S. attorneys polled for a recent Robert Half Legal survey said litigation is the practice area that will offer the greatest number of job opportunities at their law firm or company in the next two years. Among the law jobs in highest demand is litigation support/eDiscovery director. Candidates for this position with more than 10 years of experience will likely see one of the most significant increases in average base compensation in 2016: 5.7 percent. This means they can anticipate earning base compensation between $101,000 and $130,500.

Commercial law

Renewed business activity has legal employers adding more law jobs to support commercial transactions such as contract administration, financial reporting and procurement. Candidates for contract manager positions can expect average starting salaries to increase by 5.6 percent next year. This raises base pay for contract managers to between $80,500 and $121,500.

Another high-demand specialty in the commercial law practice area is compliance. The complex regulatory environment has legal employers prepared to invest in experience when it comes to hiring for the compliance director role. Candidates for this position who have at least 10 years of experience should see starting compensation increase by 5.8 percent in 2016; therefore, they can expect employers to offer starting salaries between $118,250 and $138,500.

These three law jobs — contract manager, litigation support/eDiscovery director and compliance director — will see the largest gains in annual base compensation in 2016, according to the Robert Half Legal Salary Guide.

Healthcare, intellectual property and real estate

The Salary Guide also reports that compliance activities related to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act are creating tremendous workloads for law firms and companies alike. Among the employers seeking lawyers and paralegals with healthcare expertise are medical providers, law firms and government agencies.

Intellectual property law and real estate law are two other in-demand practice areas in need of attorneys and legal support professionals with specialized expertise, the Salary Guide reports. In fact, among all law jobs tracked by the guide, lease administrators should see one of the greatest gains in starting salary for 2016: 5.3 percent. This increase will lift base compensation for lease administrators to a range of $59,000 to $80,500.

Of course, even with salaries for law jobs rising next year overall, employers may still need to offer even higher compensation to secure the most skilled and experienced legal professionals. Top candidates also could see generous benefits packages that include coveted perks. Standout candidates may even receive multiple offers or counteroffers if they are currently employed.

No doubt, the need for legal talent to support high-growth practice areas — and the potential for candidates to earn higher-than-average starting compensation — will have many legal professionals with specialized skills vying for in-demand roles throughout the year. Not only that, it's likely that some will be exploring opportunities in nontraditional law jobs, too.

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