More than one-quarter of lawyers interviewed recently said they plan to increase staff levels in the second quarter of 2010, while virtually none anticipated declines, according to The Robert Half Legal Hiring Index.
Comparatively, sixty-seven percent of those responding projected no change in hiring practices during the quarter. The survey was conducted by an independent research firm and is based on telephone interviews with 100 lawyers at law firms with 20 or more employees, and 100 corporate lawyers at companies with 1,000 or more employees. All of the respondents have hiring authority within their organizations.
Charles Volkert, executive director of Robert Half Legal, noted that hiring activity will likely be stronger for law firms, as they faced more intense pressure to downsize compared to corporate legal departments. “Law firms that cut deeply during the downturn are planning to add staff to meet existing client demands and prepare for new business,” he said. “Delivering superior quality and service requires having the right people in place. Reputation and competitiveness can suffer when a firm is understaffed.”
But locating the best candidates may be difficult, the survey results suggest. Forty-one percent of respondents said that it is challenging to find skilled legal professionals in the United States, despite high unemployment rates. Volkert noted that a single legal posting can generate several hundred resumes. “The sheer volume of applicants often makes the process more complicated for hiring managers,” he said. “As a result, some firms and departments are relying more heavily on their professional networks, internal referrals and specialized recruiters to identify the best candidates for open roles.”
Although the anticipated rise in hiring activity is a positive sign for those in the legal field, even more welcome news may be the overall sense of optimism: 80 percent of lawyers interviewed are at least somewhat confident in their organizations’ prospects for growth in the second quarter. “Bankruptcy, foreclosure and litigation practices have been strong for some time now and should continue to grow,” Volkert said. “Intellectual property, labor and employment, and securities law also have seen increased hiring demand.”