Legal hiring expected to remain strong in second quarter

Hiring in the legal field should remain strong in the second quarter of 2011, new research suggests. Twenty-nine percent of lawyers interviewed for the quarterly Robert Half Legal Hiring Index plan to add legal staff in the next three months and none plan reductions in personnel. The net increase in hiring activity is down one point from the first-quarter forecast.

The vast majority — 81 percent — of lawyers polled are at least somewhat confident in their organizations' ability to expand in the second quarter. Hiring activity is expected to take place predominantly at law firms, and litigation is the practice area predicted to see the most growth in the coming months. 

The survey was developed by Robert Half Legal, a premier legal staffing firm specializing in lawyers, paralegals and other highly skilled legal professionals. It 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.

Lawyers were asked, “Does your law firm or company plan to increase or decrease the number of full-time legal personnel on your staff during the second quarter of 2011?”

Their responses:

Increase: 29%

Decrease: 0%

No change: 58%

Don’t know/no answer: 13%

“The business environment remains competitive, and law firms are adding staff to help them expand their client base and enhance service offerings,” said Charles Volkert, executive director of Robert Half Legal. “Law firms, in particular, are hiring on a full-time and project-basis to keep up with growing business demand in hot practice areas such as litigation.”

Twenty-one percent of respondents identified litigation as the area of law that will experience the most growth in the next three months. General business/commercial and bankruptcy/foreclosure law followed, with each practice area receiving 17 percent of the response.

“Law firms are seeking associates with five or more years of experience who can hit the ground running, guiding clients through complex matters related to corporate and commercial litigation, insurance defense and individual lawsuits,” Volkert said. “Companies that are seeing renewed business activity need help handling an increase in commercial transactions.”

Volkert added that attorneys and legal support professionals also are needed to support an increase in personal bankruptcy filings and residential foreclosures.

While there remains a large pool of available talent in the job market, half of the lawyers polled (50 percent) report difficulty recruiting skilled legal professionals. When asked how many full-time positions will be added in the second quarter, the average response from lawyers was two.

Respondents also noted they most likely will hire lawyers (95 percent), followed by paralegals (49 percent), legal secretaries/assistants (20 percent) and law clerks (19 percent).

“As law firms continue to focus on enhancing their service offerings, experienced associates with strong business development skills and valuable client contacts should remain marketable,” Volkert said.

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