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Despite a sluggish economy and a slowdown in hiring, law firms and corporate legal departments have no plans to cease hiring, two national surveys have reported. A survey of 400 law firms and corporate legal departments, conducted by Special Counsel, a national legal staffing firm, found that 82 percent of respondents have continued to hire legal professionals through the economic downturn, many on a temporary basis, with the intent to hire them full time if they are successful or if the economy picks up. The survey’s definition of legal professionals included paralegals, receptionists, project assistants and attorneys. It found that legal secretaries were the most likely to be hired on a temporary basis, with 81 percent of respondents indicating they were hiring them temporarily, and that attorneys were the least likely to be hired temporarily, with only 14 percent of respondents doing so. Sixty-three percent of respondents said they had placed some of these temporary employees on their staff payrolls, though they had not originally planned to do so. Many firms responded that the biggest reasons for hiring on a temporary basis were to assess the performance of new hires and determine if the fit is right between employer and employee. According to Julie Eshbaugh, senior direct hire recruiter at the Philadelphia office of Special Counsel, the best way for paralegals and legal secretaries to prove themselves when hired temporarily is to be flexible. “With the economy the way it is, everyone is trying to figure out which department needs the staffing,” Eshbaugh said. “It’s not uncommon that people hired on a temporary basis will be asked to be flexible about whom they work for and what area they work in. Especially now, I think people may be asked to switch from working on the transactional side to doing another kind of work. If they are willing to go where the need is, they will keep their jobs and be the most valuable.” Other reasons cited by respondents were to reduce the turnover of newly hired employees and to reduce the time it takes to find the right full-time employees. A second survey developed by The Affiliates, also a legal staffing firm, and conducted by an independent research firm reported that many attorneys expect the number of associates in their firms to increase in the long term, mirroring the results from a 1999 poll. Ninety-two percent of the 200 attorneys polled said they anticipate the number of attorneys in their firms to increase over the next three years. Seven percent expect the number to remain stable, and only 1 percent expect a decline. The division director for The Affiliates, Priti Patel, said she expects the areas of employment law, intellectual property and bankruptcy to continue to grow regardless of the state of the economy. “In times like these, that is where the need is falling for a lot of my clients,” Patel said. Kathleen Call, executive director for The Affiliates, stressed that a candidate’s experience remains a crucial factor in the hiring decision. “Recent law school graduates should consider options such as clerking and project assignments to enhance their qualifications,” she said. “Networking through alumni groups and professional organizations is an effective way to generate contacts and job leads.”

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