Supply vs. demand

Firms ready to hire, but finding top talent proving tough

Guest Column

Joan Vor Broker

Joan Vor Broker is vice president and metro market manager of Robert Half Legal in Chicago.

March 2020

From new consumer privacy protections to advances in technology, law firms and in-house legal departments are adapting to evolving business needs with plans to increase head count over the next several months.

According to new research from Robert Half Legal, more than half of U.S. lawyers surveyed (54%) said their company or law firm will expand its legal ranks in the first half of 2020.

Top practice areas expected to drive job growth through midyear include litigation; privacy, data security and information law; and general business or commercial law. However, 87% of lawyers admitted it is difficult to find skilled legal professionals today with 47% citing a shortage of qualified candidates as the greatest hiring challenge.

Illinois’ low unemployment rate (3.9% as of October 2019), while good news for local job seekers, presents a significant challenge for law firms and corporate legal departments. More than three-quarters of lawyers (76%) are concerned about losing top legal performers to other opportunities, and in Chicago’s job market where skilled candidates can essentially write their own ticket, employers need to familiarize themselves with emerging hiring trends as well as what other organizations are willing to pay for skilled legal talent.

Data security rising

Over the last two years, we’ve seen consumer privacy protection regulations progress rapidly. The European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation took effect in May 2018, and even though the law is viewed as an EU-only regulation, organizations worldwide were impacted: As long as a company handles the personal data of data subjects in the EU, it was required to comply.

A month after the European regulation went into effect, the California Consumer Privacy Act was signed into law and enforcement started on Jan. 1. Both the EU and California privacy laws strive to increase transparency about how companies collect, use and share consumers’ personal information.

Although key differences exist, legal organizations here in Chicago can follow the same playbook when it comes to understanding these two laws and helping clients comply with them.

With cybersecurity and data privacy at the forefront of many business issues, technical knowledge is vital for job candidates in the legal field. Chicago legal professionals with data privacy skills, in particular, are seeing expanding legal job opportunities and above-average compensation.

In another survey conducted by Robert Half Legal, more than six in 10 lawyers (62%) said that their hiring decisions are influenced more by job candidates' technical abilities than their soft skills.

When asked which areas of technology lawyers are expected to be competent in, top answers cited by respondents were cybersecurity, data analytics, eDiscovery and artificial intelligence.

Tactical recruiting and retention

As competition heats up for legal professionals in Chicago with in-demand skills, there are strategies firms can implement in order to attract top candidates:

  1. Offer excellent pay. Competitive compensation remains the biggest priority for many legal professionals, so employers need to benchmark and adjust salaries regularly. Skilled lawyers and legal support staff know their worth and are asking for salaries above industry averages.
  2. Provide hot perks and benefits. Companies are doing more to emphasize programs that help employees better manage work priorities and personal commitments. Offering flexible schedules, telecommuting, on-site amenities and paid time off for volunteer or pro bono activities can go a long way in enticing top legal talent.
  3. Promote a strong corporate culture. A negative workplace is a deal breaker for many job seekers, so it’s important to underscore the positive qualities of your office environment.
  4. Foster professional development. Highlight mentorship and training programs that help employees sharpen critical skills and prepare for future leadership positions.
  5. Get creative with staffing. Of respondents who plan to expand their firms, a large majority (90%) anticipate staffing at least some open positions on a temporary, project or consulting basis. Many employers find hiring interim legal professionals to be an effective strategy for managing growing business demands and easing workloads on full-time staff.
  6. Be flexible. While employers are often tasked with finding skilled legal professionals who meet all the requirements for an open position, consider adjusting your hiring criteria to focus on need-to-have skills and plan for on-the-job training for those nice-to-have proficiencies.

Whether your firm is impacted by increasing litigation, data security or general business concerns, there’s a growing need for skilled legal candidates despite a tight talent pool. In-demand legal professionals call the shots in today’s job market and it’s up to employers to do their due diligence when attracting candidates.