In this episode of The Robert Half Legal Report podcast series, Charles Volkert, executive director of Robert Half Legal, and George Denlinger, senior district president of the company, take a look at the practice areas that will drive demand for legal jobs in the months ahead. They also discuss trends to watch in the legal profession for 2015, including how the need for specialized legal expertise is influencing the ways organizations approach hiring and retention.
Special thanks to our sponsor, Robert Half Legal.
Robert Half Legal Report: Legal Jobs and Practice Areas to Watch in 2015 – 1/21/2015
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Charles Volkert: Hello everyone and welcome. I’m Charles Volkert, executive director of Robert Half Legal and the host of our program. Our special guest today is George Denlinger, senior district president of Robert Half Legal. George and I will be taking a look at the most in-demand practice areas and legal professions for 2015. Geroge currently oversees local branch offices for Robert Half throughout the United States and Canada. A frequent speaker on hiring and staffing trends, he joined the company in 1998 as a branch manager in Utah and has more than 15 years of experience in the staffing industry. It’s great to have you joining us today, George.
George Denlinger: Thanks, Chad, it’s great to be here.
Charles Volkert: I’d like to start our discussion today by taking a look at the legal job market in next few months. George, what are your expectations for hiring as we enter 2015?
George Denlinger: I’m excited to tell you that we’re expecting to see more growth and expect job market to keep making gains in 2015. In fact, more than a quarter of the lawyers that we recently interviewed said they’re law firms and companies will be adding new positions in the first six months of 2015. Law firms, on one side, are focused on new business opportunities that are coming up in the approved economy, and they’re adding skilled legal professionals to expand lucrative practice areas – and we’ll get into that. On the company side, legal departments are expanding internal teams to handle more of the work in-house and obviously helps to save some cost.
Charles Volkert: Excellent. Well, let’s dive into more details in and around that exciting news.
George Denlinger: Absolutely, and some of this is intuitive, but our research said that the hottest practice areas that should generate the greatest number of legal jobs in the first half of 2015 are litigation, commercial law, real estate, and compliance. Delving into that a little bit, an increase in litigation is generating demand for skilled litigation experts; including e-discovery specialists. The hottest job in this practice area are litigation support directors, paralegals and associates; and we’re seeing great demand for those types of legal professionals across the country. I should drill in within litigation, the lawyers we recently surveyed said the greatest of job opportunities will be found in insurance defense employment, and commercial litigation. And our research again indicates that legal specialist with backgrounds in med malpractice, personal injury and intellectual property will also be highly marketable in the year ahead.
Charles Volkert: Well that certainly correlates with all of the signs within the legal community about how busy the area of litigation is. What about some of the other practice areas that you mentioned, including a general business and commercial law?
George Denlinger: Yep, and that’s exactly right, Chad. Where I was going to go is general business and commercial law is another area where increased activity in hiring will continue, according to our research. Especially for legal professionals who can support commercial transactions related to renewed business activities, such as financial supporting, procurement, contracts. Contracts administrators are being hired in many of the markets that we serve as. Compliance managers are also very high on that list of jobs to watch in 205.
Charles Volkert: Interesting, and as we’ve come out of this downturn you see more and more buildings going up, more houses being built and you mentioned real estates, so tell us a little bit more about that practice area.
George Denlinger: And that’s kind of the intuitive part that I mentioned. So certainly as the economy starts to improve, we’re seeing improvement in the real estate markets in many areas that we serve across the country and that would, of course, then trigger demand for lawyers and legal support professionals that can provide legal services related to that activity. Activity such as commercial development, residential sales, property management leasing. One of the jobs, lease administrator, is an in-demand job across the country as well. So across that whole bucket, there’s increased opportunity. So finally, to help handle those increasing work loads and access the special skills that may not exist internally within an organization, corporate legal departments and law firms are engaging lawyers, paralegals, and support staff on a project basis for areas such as MNA, compliance, and large scale litigations, including e-discovery matters.
Charles Volkert: That’s great insight, George, and when you think about the firms and the corporate legal departments out there as hiring managers review attorney candidates for these specialized positions, what experience and skills are they looking for?
George Denlinger: The first thing that I would comment on is that employers want candidates with stability and longevity. Just cutting through it, clients generally, and folks, are not as interested in job hoppers. If you look at the two sides of the coin, law firms are recruiting associates with strong business development and acquired relationship skills as well as several years’ experience in high growth practice areas. Companies are actively hiring attorneys with previous law firm experience, business law backgrounds and in particular, knowledge of the organization’s industry or sector. So the most marketable associates have proven track records, technical skills and business acumen, that’s what we’re saying.
Charles Volkert: As you think about all of the other positions within a law firm outside of the lawyers, or within a legal department, I know many our listeners would be interested in hearing your thoughts in and around paralegals or other specialized legal professionals within law firms and legal departments. What can you share with us there?
George Denlinger: Experience paralegals are being hired by law firms to deliver quality results at lower billing rates to their clients. Legal departments are hiring paralegals in particular with compliance, corporate transactional as I mentioned, contract, lease administration in their background, as I mentioned, and litigation. And in particular, e-discovery, that’s certainly been a hot area for us for paralegals. And they’re looking for paralegals with a couple of things: more education, so a four-year college degree or certificate, and more technology skills. Proficiency in software programs like Summation, Concordance, Relativity, are very high in demand; at least that’s what we’re seeing, Chad.
Charles Volkert: That’s interesting, it seems to me that if you’re a candidate possessing those skillsets, you certainly will be in demand in the marketplace as we enter into the new year. It’s been really a great discussion, so far, and now it’s time for a quick break.
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Charles Volkert: Welcome back to the Robert Half Legal Report. I’m Chad Volkert and with us today is George Denlinger, senior district president for Robert Half legal. Before the break, you were discussing how employes in the legal field are focusing their recruitment efforts on legal professionals with specialized skills. How is this demand, George, influencing the ways organizations approach hiring and retention.
George Denlinger: Let me start with hiring, Chad. So half of the lawyers that we interviewed in the recent survey said that it’s somewhat or very challenging to find skilled legal professionals today. And if you look at what that’s comprised of, law firms and corporate legal departments, first of all, are competing for the same top candidates. Job seekers who have specialized skills in the hottest practice areas are getting multiple employment offers and counter-offers from their current employers, but both from the law firms and the companies that they support. So it certainly creates a little bit of a vacuum when you think about demand. And while employers want to avoid hiring mistakes, which can be costly in terms of time, money and missed opportunity; they need to expedite the hiring process or they risk losing high-caliber candidates to competing firms. So to recruit the industry’s best talent, many firms and companies are looking at their hiring strategies, reviewing their benefits package and compensation, and making sure that their offers measure up across the board.
Charles Volkert: It sounds like, George, firms, corporate legal departments, really need to be proactive in this area to ensure that they’re identifying and retaining the top talent.
George Denlinger: That’s absolutely right, Chad, so two sides of the equation, hiring and retention. So given the costs and challenges associated with replacing team members who possess that, industry knowledge, the institutional knowledge of the firm and the legal department, they’ve got to pay more attention to employee retention matters. To that point, nearly one third of the lawyers we recently surveyed said they were concerned about losing their employees to other opportunities. When you think about it, turnover isn’t just expensive from a cost standpoint, but it negatively impacts team morale and productivity; and it can cause other employees at your organization to wonder if the grass maybe really is greener outside the organization.
Charles Volkert: Well all outstanding points that all hiring managers need to really keep top of mind as they look to hire talent and retain their best people, what strategies are law firms and legal departments using to enhance those retention efforts, George?
George Denlinger: Aside from compensation, the lawyers we surveyed said a couple of things. First of all, flexible work arrangements, also having challenging work or a variety of assignments, and professional development opportunities with the best in setups for retaining legal professionals. To get into that, many of the organizations are offering enhanced professional development in subsidized training. They’re offering flexible work hours and telecommuting in a lot of cases – that helps with work life balance, and professional development. The key really is, from a macro standpoint, to develop an effective benefits package to meet the needs of your employees without sacrificing the needs of your organization. You also want to implement leadership development programs such as formal succession plans, employee training, mentorship programs, that will maximize your legal team’s productivity and positively impact the organization, bottom line.
Charles Volkert: Great suggestions, George, and it’s interesting you mentioned mentoring. We’re seeing a lot of law firms, as well as corporations, put in place reverse mentoring programs where newly hired individuals – especially ones that are coming out of school or maybe don’t have as many years of experience but are very technically savvy – are actually mentoring more tenured staff. And in turn, the tenured lawyers, paralegals, and additional staff are mentoring the more newly hired professionals on the practice of law or how to handle operational legal requirement. So it’s interesting to see how law firms and corporations are going in different directions and being proactive in and around retention. Well, it looks like we’ve reached the end of our program and that was definitely a great discussion. Special thanks to George for joining us today. Before we close, I want to let the audience know how they can contact you and where can they obtain more information about the legal job market?
George Denlinger: Sure, Chad. So my email address, first of all, is [email protected]. Our audience can also visit RobertHalfLegal.com to download a copy of our complimentary 2015 salary guide and access our legal blog, the weekly updates on the legal job market and other important industry developments.
Charles Volkert: Thank you so much, George; and our listeners can reach me at [email protected]. Thanks again, George, and to our audience for listening today. Join us next time on the Robert Half Legal Report as we cover another great topic impacting legal practice management and legal careers.
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