The Evolving Landscape of Legal Recruitment

It is true—the legal economy is backing off the frenzied pace of 2021–22, and we see resultant shifts in the market. Between 2021 and 2022, legal hiring and demand hit record numbers as the economy rebounded and the industry tackled pent-up demand from the initial effects of the global pandemic. Now that the market has cooled from boiling, organizations are wisely re-evaluating the past few years, tightening their budgets, and recalibrating their strategic plans based on what they think is best for their business rather than on perceived talent supply famine in the marketplace. Lawyers with strong skills who are the right fit for organizations are still in high demand. However, that match in terms of skill and fit is being more arduously scrutinized during every hiring process.

In-House Legal Recruitment Post Pandemic Days

In-house legal leaders are paying particularly close attention to economic volatility. We see many continuing to execute a prior plan (perhaps in a more measured fashion) but also having an alternative plan ready if a change in course is necessary. While some have had to make the decision to let lower-level lawyers go, others are hiring steadily. The Midwest has not seen the substantial layoffs or large-scale corporate restructuring that other regions are experiencing. Instead, evaluation of legal department proficiency and efficiency is happening quarter by quarter with organizations erring on the side of conservatism; that is, avoiding big sweeping actions and reactions.

That cautious approach means tightening budgets and prudent planning. However, legal workloads are not shrinking. Not only has the budget tightened around headcount, but legal spending is being closely scrutinized. Legal teams are becoming more discerning about which projects they take on and which ones they send to outside counsel, with a strong preference for keeping work in-house. With more work executed internally, law departments are finding that using high-skill consulting attorneys can help them manage the ebb and flow of work while achieving cost savings and management stress reduction.

With corporate clients executing more work in-house, law firms, too, are being more cautious when hiring. However, economic and regulatory volatility almost always drive an uptick in legal work and, right now, law firms are reporting a steady flow. Consequently, the law firm’s lateral hiring market remains steady. Firms continue to seek lateral partners with profitable practices, particularly in private equity, M&A, and real estate. At the associate level, firms are focusing on shoring up specific skill sets in response to market shifts; litigation and intellectual property have picked up pace in Chicago thus far this year. Law firms continue to explore mergers to enter new markets, increase competitive advantage, grow bench strength, and practice breadth quickly.

Over the past few years, a number of trends and issues have emerged that are shaping the way legal jobs are advertised, recruited for, and filled. In this article, we’ll explore some of these key trends and issues and discuss their implications for hiring managers in the legal sector.

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) in Hiring

One of the most significant trends in hiring for legal jobs is the growing emphasis on diversity, equity, and inclusion. In recent years, there has been a growing awareness of the need to create a more diverse and inclusive legal profession, with a particular focus on increasing representation of underrepresented groups such as women, people of color, and members of the LGBTQ+ community.

Many law firms and legal departments are now making a concerted effort to recruit and hire candidates from diverse backgrounds, as well as to create a more inclusive workplace culture that supports and encourages diversity. This has led to a number of new initiatives, such as diversity recruiting programs, unconscious bias training for hiring managers, and the adoption of more inclusive language and job descriptions.

However, while there has been progress in this area, there is still much work to be done. A recent report by the National Association for Law Placement found that while the percentage of women and minority associates at law firms has increased over the past decade, progress has been slow, and there is still a significant gap in representation at the partnership level. As a result, hiring managers in the legal sector need to continue to prioritize DEI in their hiring practices and work to create a more diverse and inclusive workplace.

The Rise of Remote Work

Another trend that is impacting hiring for legal jobs is the rise of remote work. The COVID-19 pandemic has forced many organizations to adopt remote work policies, and many have found that it can be an effective way to reduce overhead costs, improve work-life balance, and expand their talent pool.

For legal jobs, remote work presents both opportunities and challenges. On the one hand, it allows firms and legal departments to recruit and hire candidates from anywhere in the world, increasing their access to top talent. On the other hand, it can be more difficult to build relationships and collaborate effectively when working remotely, and there may be concerns about data security and confidentiality.

As a result, hiring managers in the legal sector need to carefully consider the pros and cons of remote work when recruiting and hiring for legal jobs. They need to ensure that remote workers have the necessary tools and resources to be effective in their roles and that they can maintain high levels of collaboration and communication with their colleagues.

Technology and Automation

Another trend that is impacting hiring for legal jobs is the increasing use of technology and automation in the legal profession. From e-discovery software to contract management tools, technology is changing the way legal work is done, and this is having a significant impact on the skills and competencies required for legal jobs.

As a result, hiring managers in the legal sector need to be aware of the ways in which technology is changing the legal profession and adjust their hiring practices accordingly. They need to look for candidates with strong technology skills and an ability to adapt to new tools and platforms. They also need to be aware of the potential impact of automation on legal jobs and work to ensure that their teams are prepared for these changes.

Soft Skills and Emotional Intelligence

In addition to technical skills, there is a growing emphasis on soft skills and emotional intelligence in hiring for legal jobs. As the legal profession becomes more collaborative and client-focused, there is a greater need for lawyers and legal professionals who are able to communicate effectively.

As the year progresses, we expect legal hiring to remain steady. Companies, firms, and individual lawyers remain interested in exploring opportunities to advance. That said, 2023 is bringing back market normalcy with a refocus on efficiency, need/skill match, and cultural fit after the overenthusiasm and frenzy in 2021 and 2022.

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