The new year is a good time to take stock of your career and investigate what the legal job market has in store. Whether you’re seeking a new position or asking for a raise, it’s important to research the latest hiring trends and salary ranges for the legal jobs that interest you the most.
Here are four timely trends from the Robert Half Legal 2016 Salary Guide:
1. Specialized legal talent is in high demand. While the legal sector hasn’t quite returned to prerecession levels, many law firms are in the process of expanding their legal teams to pursue new business opportunities. Sixty-four percent of lawyers surveyed by Robert Half Legal said it is challenging to find skilled legal professionals today.
If you have expertise in the industry’s top practice areas, you are in a strong position in terms of salary negotiations and getting an offer within the salary range you desire. Employers are wooing experienced legal professionals with signing bonuses, above-average salaries, upgraded benefits and prized non-wage perks like flexible work hours and telecommuting.
- Hot practice areas are driving hiring. Several specialties are experiencing an uptick in activity, but litigation is the practice area leading legal job growth. Thirty-three percent of lawyers surveyed by Robert Half Legal said they expected litigation to generate the greatest number of jobs in the next two years. Among those legal professionals seeing increased opportunities are lawyers and paralegals with expertise in areas such as personal injury, employment law and medical malpractice.
The second-hottest practice area among lawyers we interviewed is general business/commercial law, which received 26 percent of the survey response. Companies and law firms are hiring legal professionals to support activities related to business growth such as mergers and acquisitions, joint ventures and securities.
Other specialties are also seeing growth. The healthcare sector, most notably, the Affordable Care Act, is creating a demand for legal specialists in areas related to healthcare implementation, insurance fraud and healthcare implementation. Real estate expertise is also in demand as the sector continues to grow, leading to an uptick in commercial real estate transactions. Intellectual property is also hot, with technology- and knowledge-based businesses hiring legal staff to work on patents, trademark protection and more.
- Employers want experience, tech savvy and versatility. Technology is driving considerable change in law practice management. Hiring managers are eager to recruit seasoned professionals in high-demand practice areas who are proficient in legal technology.
Besides technology, hybrid or blended paralegal/legal secretary roles are becoming more common. The most in-demand candidates are professionals who can take on a wider range of responsibilities than ever before. Firms are attempting to improve operational efficiency by hiring versatile staff, and 71 percent of lawyers we surveyed said hybrid positions are more common today than they were two years ago.
- Average starting salaries for legal professionals are expected to increase in 2016. Robert Half research predicts an average 3.1 percent increase in salary ranges for legal jobs in 2016. Here are ten top positions and salary increases reported in the Salary Guide:
- Lawyers with 10-plus years’ experience at midsize law firms are expected to increase 4.7 percent from 2015, to the average range of $162,750 to $268,500 annually.
- Starting salaries for in-house counsel with four to nine years’ experience at large companies are projected to rise 3.7 percent, to the range of $160,500 to $217,750 annually.
- Paralegals with seven-plus years’ experience at small-to-midsize law firms should see average starting salaries rise by 4.0 percent, to the range of $61,750 to $73,500 annually.
- Legal secretaries with three to six years’ experience at midsize law firms should see salaries in the range of $47,500 to $59,500 per year, a 3.4 percent increase from 2015.
- Compliance directors with 10-plus years’ experience should see the greatest gains, with starting salaries increasing by 5.8 percent, to the annual range of $118,250 to $138,500.
- Litigation support/eDiscovery directors with 10-plus years’ experience can expect their base compensation to increase 5.7 percent on average, to the range of $101,000 to $130,500 annually.
- Contract managers can expect average starting salaries to rise by 5.6 percent, to the range of $80,500 to $121,500 per year.
- Compensation for lease administrators is projected to increase 5.3 percent, to the annual range of $59,000 to $80,500.
- Law firm administrators/office managers at small-to-midsize law firms can expect average starting salaries of $64,750 to $92,500 annually, a 3.1 percent increase from 2015.
- Midlevel paralegals with four to six years’ experience at a large company should see average salary ranges of $60,000 to $77,500 per year, a 3.4 percent increase.
Whether you’re researching legal jobs or preparing to ask for a raise, having the latest salary range data will help you better plan your strategy. Make 2016 the year you get closer to your professional goals.
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.