2015 Forecast: Hiring and Salary Trends for Legal Jobs

Whether you’re gearing up to recruit or benchmarking best practices to lift retention rates, the Robert Half Legal 2015 Salary Guide is a good place to start. With data for more than 100 legal jobs, as well as a comprehensive overview of paralegal and lawyer salary trends, the guide is an indispensable tool for legal managers.

Here are the top five trends we’re seeing for the coming year:

1. Hiring continues to accelerate. In an improving economy, clients are demanding more services. This is driving many law firms to augment their service offerings in high-growth practice areas, especially in compliance, healthcare and commercial law. Also enlarging their staff are corporate legal departments — not only to control external costs but also to keep sensitive matters in-house. And because workloads are increasing everywhere, there is also a greater demand for legal support personnel and project-based employees.

Since experienced candidates are receiving multiple offers, law firm management no longer has the luxury of mulling over a recruitment decision. Managers also need to work hard to entice their number-one picks with competitive compensation packages and non-wage perks like job training, flexible work schedules and remote options.

2. Hot practices areas command the highest salaries. The list of the most sought-after specializations in the legal industry is topped by litigation, which will continue to create legal jobs in insurance defense, medical malpractice, commercial litigation, and employment law. The salary for a senior-level litigation job, such as a litigation support manager, is expected to rise by almost five percent in 2015. Another hot area is business and corporate law, particularly compliance. Salary ranges for compliance directors, for example, are projected to rise 5.2 percent next year. Increased workloads surrounding the Affordable Care Act have led to a demand for lawyers and paralegals with expertise in healthcare.

3. Competition is fierce for experienced workers. The most in-demand candidates possess four-plus years of experience in high-growth areas. This means that while firms are still hiring entry-level associates and junior legal secretaries, salaries for those professionals are not growing as quickly as those with longer work histories.

Attorneys must demonstrate proven excellence in managing client portfolios as research shows firms are focusing on improving service levels and driving new business. For paralegals, proficiency in billing and case management software is imperative, as well as experience in growing areas such as compliance and eDiscovery.

Experience encompasses more than legal and technical know-how. Employers are also looking for stellar communication skills, which are vital for problem-solving, critical thinking and fostering long-lasting relationships with clients. Being bilingual or multilingual and having a strong customer service orientation are other major assets.

4. Educational requirements are expanding. As client needs grow and firms take on global business, it’s becoming more important than ever for lawyers to have additional educational credentials. When hiring patent lawyers, for example, firms want to see candidates with an engineering or science degree in addition to a JD. Top corporate attorneys also possess an MBA and years of finance experience.

For paralegals, more and more companies expect previous practice area experience, a four-year degree and a certification of completion from an ABA-approved paralegal education program.

5. Legal support professionals are doing more. Legal jobs for support staff are becoming more demanding. To cut costs, firms are relying on paralegals more than ever to fulfill certain job functions once performed by lawyers. Salary trends reflect this increase in duties: The base pay of a paralegal or legal assistant with at least four years of experience is expected to rise between 3.3 and 4.5 percent in 2015.

A related trend in legal jobs is the rise of the hybrid paralegal/legal secretary. A recent Robert Half Legal poll of 200 lawyers reported that 64 percent of respondents said such blended positions are more common now than two years ago. To support this trend, some colleges and paralegal associations now have formal programs to prepare these hybrid support staff.

In today’s legal landscape, where new practice areas are emerging and the competition for skilled talent is fierce, successful firms and legal departments need to be aware of hiring and compensation trends to stay on top. By consulting the 2015 Salary Guide, you can arm yourself with the knowledge your organization needs to stay ahead of the game.