Hiring Survey Speaks Half-Truths

By: Amanda Triplett, 1L

Junior Layout Editor

For 3Ls searching for a firm to call home in a post-2008 legal market, a study released by Robert Half Legal states that a third of lawyers expect increased hiring in the second half of 2017. However, reading past this headline, Dean Jarrett notes that the survey is somewhat misleading in terms of its impact on law students and recent graduates. For example, the survey specifies that many firms and in-house departments expect to grow by the lateral hiring of experienced lawyers and those with special expertise.

For law school graduates, it is probably more accurate that the legal market is gradually recovering. Reflecting on recent conversations with legal hiring managers, Dean Jarrett recalls that many are intending to increase hires for law school graduates by a handful – not as dramatically as the survey indicates. “It’s sometimes by just one or two, but the fact that levels are not staying the same or decreasing is a positive.”

Chart courtesy of: Amanda Triplett

  Chart courtesy of: Amanda Triplett

This trend, among others, is illustrated more accurately in The National Association for Law Placement 2017 Legal Employment Market Update. The update shows slight increases in private practice employment each year, including a 1.6 percent increase from 2015 to 2016. Government jobs, clerkships, business, and education employment were comparatively stable since the recession while the percentage of law school students employed in public interest careers increased during the recession and has been decreasing very slightly in recent years. Overall, salaries have begun to stabilize as well. The average private practice salary tanked from a high of $115,000 in 2009 to a low in 2011 at $97,800, steadily increasing each year to reach $113,600 in 2015.

Chart courtesy of: Amanda Triplett | W&L excels in clerkship employment.

Chart courtesy of: Amanda Triplett | W&L excels in clerkship employment.

Washington & Lee’s numbers generally mirror these overall statistics, with a few exceptions revealing the priorities of the previous graduating class. For example, W&L’s judicial clerkship employment was a whopping 12.4 percent above the national percentage. Additionally, the percentage of students working in firms with 101-250 or 251-500 attorneys were both more than double the overall figure. To meet the challenges of a depressed legal market, Dean Jarrett attributes much of the Office of Career Services’ success toward making the candidate search as user-friendly as possible for legal employers. “We want to make it easy for employers to hire W&L.” Some recent efforts to do so include transitioning to S.C.O.R.E. and adding an interview program in Atlanta, for example.

As a final caveat, Dean Jarrett notes that the legal market is in flux, stimulated by events triggered by the Recession. The NALP 2017 Legal Employment Market Update shows some of these factors, including how the supply of legal service providers has increased, forcing firms to rethink how they deliver services. The impact of technology, automation, and globalization have also created additional pressures on the market as well. For example, PwC, a large financial services firm, recently launched a temporary lawyer system and law firm. This effort seems to have been motivated by goals to drive efficiencies in overheads, consolidate services for clients in one company, and provide clients with a rich talent pool. Dean Jarrett notes that financial services firms such as PwC are usually one step ahead of their more rigid legal counterparts but may present an indication of future trends. “Law firms will need to shape up in order to compete.” What the future of the legal market holds is unclear but at the very least it’s stabilizing slightly in the present.