Hiring in the legal field has strengthened as law firms and corporate legal departments bring on professionals to support renewed business activity, comply with new regulations and manage rising workloads. According to the newly released 2014 Salary Guide from Robert Half Legal, legal professionals with specialized expertise are seeing the most opportunities in this environment.
Small and midsize firms are reporting demand for mid- and senior-level associates as these firms look to expand lucrative practice groups or invest in new service offerings. Larger firms also are stepping up their efforts to capture additional revenue by recruiting legal professionals who can bolster business development efforts. Law firms and corporate legal departments seek candidates with expertise in the hottest practice areas, which include healthcare, litigation, and general business and commercial law.
Despite an uptick in legal activity, however, many employers are managing conservative budgets and focusing on recruiting experienced candidates who can make immediate contributions. Competition for legal candidates with in-demand skills is tightening. More than half (53 percent) of lawyers surveyed by Robert Half Legal said it is somewhat or very challenging for their law firms or companies to find skilled legal professionals today.
Outlook for Lawyers
Now more than ever, employers seek experienced candidates who require little or no training. Law firms of all sizes are actively recruiting senior-level lawyers with portable books of business to expand practice groups or establish new services. Robert Half Legal research revealed that practice area expertise and client contacts are the most important factors when law firms and legal departments hire senior-level associates. Mid-level associates with three to five-plus years of experience in high-demand specialties also are marketable. The hiring environment for first-year and summer associates is expected to remain conservative.
Corporate legal departments are going head-to-head with law firms for experienced candidates as general counsel expand their internal teams to support business growth. General counsel seek legal professionals with compliance, corporate transactional and contract administration backgrounds, especially those who possess deep knowledge of a particular industry or sector. Employers continue to prefer experienced candidates who can immediately provide expertise to ongoing cases and projects.
Paralegals and Legal Support Professionals
Not only is full-time hiring showing signs of recovery, but the use of project legal professionals is also on the rise. In addition to lawyers, corporate legal departments and law firms are bringing in paralegals and legal support staff on a project basis to augment the efforts of in-house teams and access specialized expertise that may not be available internally.
Paralegals with backgrounds in healthcare, corporate law, litigation and compliance
are in strong demand among law firms and corporations. Hybrid or blended paralegal/legal secretary roles have become more common as legal organizations streamline and consolidate support functions. Paralegal duties are widening as law firms and businesses look to these professionals to tackle a range of assignments previously performed by junior-level lawyers, including research, trial preparation, patent filings, and regulatory and e-discovery matters.
Law firms and legal departments are seeking legal secretaries with three-plus years of experience to support attorneys and practice groups. The most marketable candidates are technology-savvy — proficient with the latest legal software and social media applications — and willing to take on new responsibilities.
Compensation Trends for Legal Professionals
While salaries have not yet returned to pre-recession levels, with corporations and law firms looking to hire from the same talent pool, many employers are making the necessary changes in compensation to attract top talent and retain valued employees. Starting salaries for legal positions in the United States are anticipated to rise 2.7 percent, on average, in the coming year. The most in-demand professionals are likely to see above-average salary increases. In addition, multiple employment offers, signing bonuses and counteroffers are becoming more common as organizations compete for top candidates.
The compensation ranges listed for positions in the Salary Guide are based on thousands of full-time and interim placements made each year by Robert Half Legal’s staffing and recruiting professionals. The ranges given are national averages and reflect starting pay only because hard-to-measure factors, such as seniority and job performance, can affect ongoing pay. In addition, bonuses and other forms of compensation, such as retirement packages, are not taken into account.
In the law firm environment, an associate with four to nine years’ experience at a midsize law firm (35-75 lawyers), for example, can expect a 4.8 percent increase to a range of $124,750 to $187,500. The Salary Guide predicts that less-experienced attorney and first-year associate roles will see smaller increases in base compensation. A first-year associate at a midsize firm, for example, is likely to see an increase of 2.5 percent, to a range of $78,250 to $106,750.
In the corporate legal departments, base pay for in-house counsel with 10-plus years’ experience is projected to range from $171,750 to $245,750 at a large company (more than $250 million in revenue), a 3.7 percent increase from 2013. At a midsize company ($25 million to $250 million in revenue), in-house counsel at the same experience level can expect to see a salary jump of 3.5 percent to a range of $139,500 to $216,000, annually. Corporate lawyers with 10-plus years’ experience at small companies (up to $25 million in revenue) are likely to see a pay range between $121,500 and $176,500, a 2.8 increase.
In-house counsel with four to nine years’ experience at large companies are projected to see starting salaries ranging from $148,250 to $204,500, which represents a 3.4 percent rise. At small companies, base pay for the same position is expected to be in the $106,750 to $149,500 range.
In a midsize law firms, a senior paralegal with seven or more years’ experience can expect a 3.9 percent increase, to a range of $62,750 to $77,250. In a corporate legal department, a senior paralegal, also at a midsize company, can expect a 2.3 increase to a range of $63,500 to $83,000.
At midsize law firms, legal secretaries with 7-11 years’ experience should see a 2.3 percent increase in starting pay to a range of $50,250 to $63,250. On the corporate side, a senior legal secretary (seven-plus years’ experience) at a midsize company is likely to see a 1.4 percent pay hike to a range of $56,250 to $68,500.
Starting Salaries for Other Key Positions
Legal specialists with litigation support, compliance and contract administration expertise also should see greater-than-average salary gains:
- Starting salaries for legal professionals with litigation support expertise are predicted to rise 3.6 percent, on average. Litigation support directors with 10-plus years’ experience should see starting salaries increase by 4.6 percent, to the range of $91,500 to $117,750.
- Compliance managers with seven to nine years’ experience can expect average starting salaries to rise by 4.3 percent, to the range of $86,250 to $106,250 per year.
- Compensation for contract administrators with four or more years of experience is projected to increase 4.0 percent, to the range of $64,500 to $102,250 annually.
Robert Half Legal’s much-anticipated annual Salary Guide is based on extensive research conducted by Robert Half Legal field offices throughout North America and ongoing surveys of attorneys with hiring authority from some of the largest corporations and law firms in the United States and Canada. The information presented in the guide can help legal employers and candidates navigate the legal hiring market, validate hiring and compensation trends, and gauge appropriate salary levels. The guide includes starting salary ranges for more than 100 legal positions in corporate legal departments and law firms.
For more detailed information on salary and hiring trends, consult the 2014 Salary Guide from Robert Half Legal. A complimentary PDF can be downloaded at http://www.roberthalflegal.com/salary-center.
Charles A. Volkert is executive director of Robert Half Legal, a leading staffing service specializing in the placement of attorneys, paralegals, legal administrators and other legal professionals with law firms and corporate legal departments. Based in Menlo Park, Calif., Robert Half Legal has offices in major cities throughout the United States and Canada.