In 2015, law firms and corporate legal departments are expected to increase their hiring spend as the legal industry continues to gain strength in a post-recession economy. In this environment, nontraditional career paths are also becoming more common and, in particular, specialty areas are expected to grow. These include bankruptcy, litigation, intellectual property, healthcare, energy, environment, contracts, and licensing, according to the Association of Corporate Counsel.
At Special Counsel, we recently conducted a survey that found that CEOs and business owners consider the following specialty areas as most important to their company’s legal needs: ethics and corporate governance (25%), labor and employment (24%), intellectual property (21%) and privacy and data security (18%).
Nontraditional Legal Careers Are Becoming More Traditional
Nontraditional tracks are gaining favor as firms and legal departments seek to gain efficiencies and manage costs through attorneys with specialized skills. For example, experienced practitioners who can optimize workflows involving litigation document review (review, production and eDiscovery) can be appealing to an employer.
New methods in technology-assisted review (TAR) are gaining acceptance, and may require added specialty skills in information systems, process optimization and statistics. For instance, more courts are permitting the use of predictive coding to cull vast amounts of electronically stored information. Practitioners with such skills are expected to become more appealing to employers given the technology’s promise of reducing the burden of review and eDiscovery.
Another nontraditional track involves price-sensitive commodity work such as research, document collection, review, witness preparation, depositions, and due diligence.
Nontraditional attorneys can also get involved in various specialized work. Such responsibilities can include brief writing, insurance policy analysis, damage analysis, and data analytics.
Temporary Legal Hires Offer Flexibility
According to the National Association for Law Placement, 82% of law firms and corporate legal departments are currently using temp or contract lawyers. When it comes to hiring lawyers with specialty skills, employers may use a staffing agency to hire lawyers on a temporary or temporary-to-permanent basis.
Some professionals have traditionally viewed contract work as less desirable. However, the outlook on contract work is slowly improving. According to a CareerBuilder survey of hiring managers and HR professionals, 42% expected to hire temporary workers in 2014, compared to just 24% for full-time workers –and those figures may increase in 2015.
Employment for lawyers is projected to grow 10 % per annum until 2022, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). That’s about as fast as the average for all occupations.
There are approximately170,000 attorneys in the U.S. and 22% are self-employed. The median annual wage is about $115,000 or close to $55 per hour, while the top 10% of lawyers earn roughly $188,000 per annum.
“More price competition over the next decade may lead law firms to rethink their project staffing, to reduce costs to clients,” according to BLS. “Work that was previously assigned to lawyers, such as document review, may now be given to paralegals and legal assistants. Some routine legal work may also be outsourced to other lower-cost legal providers located overseas.”
Growth for all legal occupations is projected to grow 11% per annum until 2022. That includes arbitrators, mediators, judges, hearing officers, paralegals, assistants, researchers, and teachers. Median annual wages for legal practitioners (other than licensed attorneys) are about $75,000.
In terms of the overall U.S. economy, the unemployment rate declined to 5.6% in January 2015. Job gains occurred in professional and business services, construction and food services, health care, and manufacturing. The civilian labor force participation rate edged down by 0.2% to 62.7% in December 2014.
Legal Support Roles
Non-attorney roles reflect an ongoing evolution in the legal landscape. As technology affects the legal profession, more employers are seeking IT experts as well as consultants who can optimize workflows. Additionally, more firms are hiring assistants, law librarians, researchers, paralegals, and marketing professionals.
New methods in the collection, investigation, preservation, and authentication of data are requiring niche skills. For example, an employer involved in eDiscovery may seek practitioners with experience in the following:
- Digital Forensics Predictive Coding
- Information Governance
- Data Security
- Email Threading
- Business Process Improvement
“Competition should continue to be strong, because more students are graduating from law school each year than there are jobs available,” according to BLS. “Some recent law school graduates who have been unable to find permanent positions are turning to the growing number of temporary staffing firms that place attorneys in short-term jobs. This service allows companies to hire lawyers ‘as-needed’ and permits beginning lawyers to develop practical skills.”
Take Another Look at Special Counsel
In order to adapt to these changes in the legal market, we at Special Counsel have expanded our service offerings. We are becoming more agile and consultative for our clients and job seekers.
Senior-level attorneys are increasingly desirable to law firms, particularly attorneys with practice management experience. Attorneys with technical knowledge of IT platforms continue to have the competitive advantage over other attorney candidates.
It can be challenging to find such candidates with a mix of legal and IT experience. Additionally, the job growth for information security analysts, which have become critical in the legal field, is 37% per annum, which is much faster than most other occupations, according to BLS. At Special Counsel, we have seen an increase in security-related full-time support roles, in order to allow attorney and paralegals availability to conduct billing activity.
As a result of these trends, we are focusing on expanding our candidate pool to include more senior-level attorneys and nontraditional candidates such as security engineers, project managers, lease abstractors, contract administrators, legal nurse consultants and more.
We have also invested in eDiscovery solutions, launching the eQ, end-to-end eDiscovery solutions.