New law firm data shows 'skyrocketing' demand for U.S. lawyers

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REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji

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(Reuters) - Highlighting the rebound in hiring for lawyers following the pandemic's initial shocks, new data shows a dramatic increase in available jobs for lawyers looking to join a law firm.

There were 8,268 open jobs for lawyers at all levels at just over 1,000 firms across the country as of May 14, representing a 150% increase from the start of the pandemic, according to figures released Wednesday by legal market data provider Leopard Solutions.

The number of open positions has kept growing since the report's calculations. By Wednesday there were 8,472 open attorney jobs for associates, counsel, partners, and staff and other support attorneys, Phil Flora, vice president of sales and marketing at Leopard Solutions, said in an email.

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A breakdown of that total shows a majority of the positions are for associates, at 6,048 open jobs, according to data shared by Flora. There were 242 open counsel positions, 272 for partners, and 1,872 for staff and support attorneys, he said.

Flora noted that most law firms don't post jobs for partners and counsel, "so the attorney job market is even stronger than this when you factor in law firms looking for lateral partners without posting for the position."

Other recent data showed how much the job market for associates took a hit in 2020.

The NALP Foundation for Law Career Research and Education released results last month from a survey of 126 law firms, finding associate hiring decreased nearly 50% from 2019 to 2020. Fiona Trevelyan Hornblower, president and CEO of the NALP Foundation, said at the time that the decline, in part, is due to firms postponing the start dates for first-year associates, and because fewer existing associates left their jobs last year.

The NALP Foundation's findings came out the same day that the American Bar Association reported a 2.6% decrease in full-time legal employment for new graduates in the class of 2020 compared to the class of 2019.

Fast-forward to 2021, and far from cutting back on hiring, many firms are now scrambling to attract and retain associates - as recent headlines on associate compensation make clear. Some firms have increased base pay for associates, matching New York rates in smaller cities, and a raft of firms announced special bonuses reaching $64,000 this spring.

The Leopard Solutions statement Wednesday pointed to other highlights of what it called the "skyrocketing demand" for attorneys.

Based on the May 14 figures, there has been a 106% uptick in open roles since Oct. 1, 2020, when the company said most law firms became more active in their pursuit of lawyers with books of business to make up for a slow few months at the onset of pandemic.

The available job figures have even surpassed pre-pandemic numbers. Between 2017 and the end of 2019, there were on average 6,000 to 6,500 attorney jobs open at any one time, the company said.

"Firms need to plan ahead now about how to hold onto their lawyers in anticipation of their people potentially being poached to other firms," Laura Leopard, CEO of Leopard Solutions, said in a statement. "For those firms seeking new hires, be creative and look beyond the top 100 firms to small and mid-size firms."

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