Salaries, Talent Retention and Tech Trends in the Legal Field: Q&A With Jamy Sullivan, JD, Executive Director, Robert Half

By Robert Half on November 17, 2021 at 12:30pm

Welcome to Robert Half’s Thought Leader Q&A, a new series featuring insights from the experts who have made our company a Best Place to Work and a premier provider of talent solutions.

This week, we feature Jamy Sullivan, executive director of the legal practice for Robert Half, who provides her insights on employment, compensation and other trends affecting the legal field. An author and speaker on legal employment and practice management topics, Jamy began her career with Robert Half in 2002 as an account executive in Columbus, Ohio. Over the years, she has held various management positions within the company and received recognition for serving on project committees, mentoring internal employees and her leadership performance. Jamy accepted the role of executive director in 2016 and leads the company’s North American legal practice teams. She is based in Dallas.

Prior to her employment with Robert Half, Jamy worked as a law clerk at an Ohio labor and employment law firm and for the Ohio State Legislature. She holds a bachelor’s degree in communication from The Ohio State University and a Juris Doctor from Capital University Law School, both in Columbus, Ohio.

Here’s what Jamy shared with us in our recent Q&A session:

The pandemic brought unprecedented changes to all aspects of the legal profession, including law practice management. Law firm and corporate legal department leaders must address a wide range of scenarios, including managing hybrid legal teams for the foreseeable future. How has the pandemic affected recruiting, retention and salaries in the legal field?

As in many other industries, the pandemic has created a shortage of legal professionals that is impacting legal recruiting efforts as law firms and legal departments increasingly compete for top talent. In fact, unemployment is roughly 1% for attorneys and 3% for paralegal and legal assistants.

Retention is a significant concern in the legal field. Working in our new remote world with the ability to always be available via technology platforms such as Slack, Teams and Zoom has created burnout and morale concerns. In addition, candidates are more likely to leave their current employer if they don’t feel the company’s values align with their own and if they can’t have a flexible work schedule going forward.

To retain top talent, law firms and legal departments must assess their flexible and remote work options. Organizations will also need to adjust the perks and benefits that they are offering. Employers should consider employee discounts, paid parental leave, paid time off for volunteer activities, on-site daycare, mental health resources, and physical and financial wellness programs.

As far as salaries go, competition has caused firms to increase compensation to attract and hold on to associates. This past summer, we saw several law firms increase annual starting salaries to $200,000 or higher for first-year associates. To put this into perspective, when I graduated from law school in 2002, newly minted attorneys were making $125,000 to $135,000 annually. We expect firms to continue increasing starting salaries for associates in 2022.

We have also seen salaries increase for in-house counsel, compliance analysts and contract managers. In fact, we anticipate that salaries will continue to climb for most legal positions in the current employment climate. Job seekers will not hesitate to negotiate for what they can earn when they have in-demand skills.

There is growing demand for a broad range of talented law professionals. What legal jobs are in greatest demand at law firms and corporate legal departments as we head into 2022?

Midlevel attorneys and paralegals with three to seven years of experience are highly marketable, especially those with sought-after practice area expertise, such as commercial law, litigation, real estate law, intellectual property and family law. Corporate legal departments found themselves involved in their company’s critical business decisions during the pandemic and needed to pivot quickly to respond adequately. In-house counsel with business acumen and the ability to adapt quickly will remain in strong demand, especially attorneys with backgrounds in compliance, contract management, corporate transactions, labor and employment law, or mergers and acquisitions.

The pandemic was a game-changer for the legal profession in that it forced widespread use of innovative technologies. What will be the most important legal technology trend for lawyers and other legal professionals to follow now, and what technology do you think will have the biggest impact on transforming legal services and improving client relationship management over the next 24 months?

The legal field has historically been slow to change — let’s call it “risk averse” — so it’s not surprising that adopting new technologies has been a slower process within the field. Making matters more difficult, there is an abundance of technology platforms to choose from today, as well as alternative legal service providers that are utilizing technology to provide services.

In a survey that Robert Half conducted, 79% of legal leaders said the top shift during the pandemic was the way they used technology to adapt to the remote work environment. Ultimately, going forward, law firms and corporate legal departments are going to need to assess technologies that will solve challenges the business is facing, support long-term business goals and deliver a better customer experience. Legal leaders will need to create a culture that is open to change to accomplish tech adoption across the organization.

A law degree is valuable for many roles, and the skills developed in law school are applicable in many different industries and careers. What are the hottest career paths and jobs for new graduates or experienced lawyers who now want to do something different than practice law?

Compliance analysts, contract managers and litigation support or eDiscovery specialists are a few of the hottest career paths in the legal profession.

I would be remiss if I didn’t point out the growing need for individuals in government and education that possess a Juris Doctor degree. In addition, I am living proof that your law degree can be applied to another profession and have a positive impact. I have been with Robert Half for 19 years, helping businesses and individuals in the legal field. I have worked with Fortune 500 companies and AmLaw 100 law firms across the country to provide hiring insights, and I have had the privilege of personally placing thousands of candidates into rewarding careers.

What is a cause you are passionate about, and how do you like to support it?

I first came to know Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) when I was a student at The Ohio State University. CASA was my sorority’s philanthropy. If you are not familiar with CASA, it is a national organization that provides court-appointed advocates for abused and neglected children. As I learned more about the organization and its advocacy on behalf of children, I wanted to be able to do more. I wasn’t able to be an advocate in court, so I did the next best thing — I decided to run for the philanthropist chair of my sorority. This allowed me to volunteer my time in another way and work closely with the organization and organize various fundraisers throughout the year.

During law school, I had the honor of volunteering and later working for the organization as a research clerk. Upon graduation, and now while at Robert Half, I continue to donate time and participate in fundraisers with my sorority sisters across the country. I believe that every child deserves a voice and the opportunity to be heard. I take to heart CASA’s philosophy and believe “Together we can help a child thrive.”

Follow Jamy Sullivan on Twitter and LinkedIn.

Stay tuned to the Robert Half blog for future installments of our Thought Leader Q&A series to discover more unique stories, experiences and perspectives on the latest talent and hiring trends and innovations.

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