Things Are Looking Up for In-house Counsel Hiring

Things Are Looking Up for In-house Counsel Hiring Sergey Nivens - Fotolia

It’s hard to believe that the first six months of 2014 (and then some) are already gone. A new legal hiring trends survey from legal staffing and consulting firm Robert Half Legal looks ahead to the next half of the year and finds that the future is bright for in-house legal professionals in the U.S. and Canada.

The survey includes data from both law firms and law departments, but Robert Half broke down the numbers into in-house data sets for CorpCounsel.com. According to the stats, 18 percent of in-house attorneys surveyed anticipate hiring legal department staff in the second half of this year, a full six-point increase from the numbers collected in its hiring survey taken six months ago. Only 4 percent of respondents anticipated a staff reduction.

Charles Volkert, executive director at Robert Half Legal, told CorpCounsel.com that these numbers have given his firm reason to be “cautiously optimistic” about the future of in-house hiring.

“What we’re also seeing,” said Volkert, “is 45 percent of the respondents continue to say it’s challenging to find highly skilled candidates to come in and work in-house in the areas that they need. I think anytime you see that almost half of the lawyers are saying it’s hard to find folks, that’s positive indication of the market demand.”

The practice area in which 36 percent of in-house attorneys say most hiring will probably take place at their companies is in business and commercial law. This is followed by privacy, data security and information law at 8 percent; and litigation and intellectual property at 6 percent each.

Of those attorneys who said their companies were hiring for litigation know-how through the rest of the year, 30 percent were most interested in hiring in commercial litigation. Behind that area, 19 percent anticipated the greatest job opportunities in employment litigation and 17 percent cited insurance defense.

Volkert reported that there has been a lot of demand from companies for legal professionals with more than one specialty. “One of the trends we’re seeing is a demand for hybrid legal and legal support roles,” he said. For example, he said, a job candidate could have in-depth background and experience in both compliance and litigation, or intellectual property and data privacy.

Besides areas of expertise, the survey also pinpointed what factors would influence a company’s hiring decisions. Most of the in-house attorneys surveyed—58 percent—said that previous work experience or the prestige of former employers, whether law firms or other companies, was the top factor in determining an applicant’s potential. The second-most-cited factor, at 31 percent, was a referral from a current employee or member of the attorney’s network.

Perhaps due to an improving in-house job market, a good number of the lawyers surveyed showed concern about retaining top-performing employees. Some 32 percent said that retaining talent was a challenge, and many cited “increased compensation or bonuses” or “challenging work and variety of assignments” as the best incentives to keep members of the legal team from leaving.

According to Volkert, there’s more to retaining employees than just compensation and engaging tasks. He cited flex-time work scheduling and such educational opportunities as continuing legal education and technology training as top demands around retention, as well as health-club membership and day care for children.

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