According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, legal jobs rose by 2,700 in August 2013, a sharp contrast from the 500 jobs added per month average the legal industry had been seeing over the past 12 months. In the past year, the legal industry has added a total of 6,300 jobs.
Some of the biggest law firms, however, aren’t taking part in the legal industry’s jobs upswing.
Duane Morris recently eliminated 17 secretarial and paralegal positions. Arent Fox has let about 20 employees go. And staff cuts at Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman seem to be coming soon. All of these cuts have come in September alone, after the industry is supposed to be on the upswing.
So what’s the reasoning behind these layoffs? According to Jennifer Smith of the Wall Street Journal (WSJ), technology is playing a major role. However, it’s not just new e-discovery techniques or resource optimization through outside counsel; according to Smith, lawyers themselves are becoming more accustomed with modern technology, allowing more of them to write their own briefs and type their own emails.
As a result, the need for some secretarial and paralegal positions is disappearing. As Arent Fox told the WSJ in early September, “Like many firms across the country, we are making hard choices to ensure that our resources are aligned with demand.” And as law firms are trimming budgets, the first resource to go is often people.
There is no word whether this trend will continue. Legal consultant Thomas S. Clay of Altman Weil Inc. believes so, as he told The Legal Intelligencer on Friday, “I’m surprised that anybody’s surprised. You’re going to continue to see it.” However, a recent University of North Carolina Law report indicates that fewer students are expected to seek law degrees in the first place, which should help even out the market.