Since the financial crisis struck in 2007, in-house legal departments have focused on reducing costs, resulting in hiring freezes and layoffs. In 2010, the U.S. economy showed signs of stability, a return to growth and improved consumer confidence, but in-house hiring remained static. So a surge of confidence among legal recruiters and hiring experts, bolstered by a crop of promising legal hiring surveys, should come as a welcome change to both job-seeking lawyers and strapped legal departments.
While legal hiring survey results vary based on the pool of participants, they all point to gradual but real growth. Hildebrandt Baker Robbins' 2010 Law Department Survey reports that 41 percent of law departments expect an increase in lawyers between 2010 and 2011, while only 8 percent expect a decrease. In contrast, between 2008 and 2009 one-third of participants reported a decrease.
Signs of Health
Market activity, productivity, consumer spending and other economic indicators point to a corporate America that is recovering, if slowly. In the business press, stories about hot emerging companies in varied industries are beginning to outpace coverage of corporate bankruptcies.
What Employers Want
With legal jobs in demand, the market is flooded with quality applicants. Both recruiters and general counsel report a large number of resum?s being submitted by high-caliber lawyers. That means companies can demand more of their hires.
The good news is that corporate America's recovery means handling work in-house won't always mean lacking the necessary resources--in the coming years, it could lead to increased in-house hiring. When companies were highly profitable, sending work to outside counsel wasn't necessarily a hard sell--it was expensive, but considered a safe way to operate. Insourcing really hit its stride during the financial crisis, as law departments were forced to rethink their operations.
In 2009, Husqvarna General Counsel Earl Bennett began making changes to his law department that included hiring two new lawyers and assessing what work could be performed in-house.
"If it's a defined task that's sufficiently repetitive and you can give sufficient work to an inside person, it's still the most economic way to go about it," he says. "There's also a higher level of transparency in terms of how, what and why you're doing something, and that has economic value."
While the in-house job market is heating up, there's still a disparity between the number of job openings and the number of applicants. So while they're optimistic, recruiters caution job-seeking lawyers to continue being patient.
"If you are gainfully employed, hold on to your job for now," says Vanessa Vidal, president of ESQ Recruiting. "Keep an eye out for opportunities, and feel free to apply if you see something of interest, but do not become discouraged if you get turned away. The candidate pool is as wide as it is deep; the competition is unlike any we have ever seen. That said, this is a good time to update your resum? and to expand your skill set."