Firms look to expand first-year associate hiring

Hiring within the legal field is expected to be steady in 2018, but more job offers may be on the way for first-year associates, according to a recent report released by Robert Half Legal.

Nearly one-quarter, 22 percent, of 175 lawyers interviewed by an independent research firm said that their law firms planned to increase hiring of first-year associates in the next 12 months. Another 67 percent of respondents said their law firms were not planning to decrease recruitment efforts in the coming year. Only 7 percent said they plan to hire less first-year associates.

"Job opportunities for recent law school graduates are on the rise as firms look to expand legal teams to support high-growth practice areas, such as litigation, commercial law and real estate," said Jamy Sullivan, executive director of Robert Half Legal. "New associates who were ranked at the top of their law school class and possess in-demand attributes such as technology proficiency, business acumen, interpersonal abilities and team collaboration skills are highly marketable."


22% of law firms plan to increase hiring of first year associates.


Not only are these law firms upping their recruitment efforts, they are also making heavy investments in associate training. Lawyers responding to the survey said that their law firms spend $12,000 on average recruiting and training each individual first-year associate. Respondents from the largest law firms with 250 or more lawyers said their firms spend $62,000, on average.

Another surprising statistic? Sixty-seven percent of lawyers said that it is challenging for their law firm or company to find skilled legal professionals.

This is good news for lawyers possessing in-demand skills and experiences, as law firms reported they are increasing starting salaries to attract top candidates. However, these employers are expecting attorneys to produce more value in billable hours and performance, according to the report. Also, more law firms are searching for attorneys with two to three years of experience that they can train for needed positions.

For law grads looking to join a corporate legal team, there may be more opportunities in the future. Corporate legal departments are adding to their teams and taking more legal work in-house, according to the report. These employers want corporate attorneys with working knowledge of legal matters related to business growth, executive compensation and employment law. In particular, contract administrators are in high demand.

Research conducted by Robert Half Legal for its 2018 Salary Guide revealed the median starting salary for first-year associates is $68,000, and $90,000 for in-house corporate counsel with 0-3 years experience.

The greatest number of job opportunities, according to the Robert Half data, exists in litigation, general business and commercial law, real estate, compliance and healthcare.