About the author

Jamy J. Sullivan, J.D.

2022 Forecast: Legal Salaries and Hiring Trends to Optimize Employee Acquisition and Retention Strategies

By Jamy J. Sullivan, J.D.

Reading Time: 4 minutes

The legal field’s talent shortage is expected to intensify as law firms and legal departments pivot from adjusting to challenges brought on by the pandemic and changing the way they operate and deliver legal services to planning for long-term growth, including team expansion. 

With hiring returning to or even exceeding pre-pandemic levels, it’s important that legal leaders re-examine their recruiting and retention strategies, including benefits and compensation packages and remote work arrangements, to remain competitive. According to recent Robert Half research:

  • 34% of employees currently working remotely said they won’t stay with companies that don’t allow remote work
  • 75% of workers want to work remotely at least part of the time
  • 66% of companies will offer flexible scheduling after pandemic restrictions are universally lifted
  • 78% of hiring managers said they are open to recruiting outside their geographical area

What other factors should managers take into consideration when planning to hire? Here are several key insights into current trends:  

Pandemic realities boost demand for practice area, legal operations expertise

One of the greatest challenges is the lack of available talent as law firms and legal departments directly compete for skilled legal professionals. Midlevel lawyers and paralegals with three-plus years’ experience are especially in strong demand. 

As companies adopt measures to minimize risk and ensure business continuity, they seek advice from in-house legal teams regarding contractual agreements, corporate transactions, mergers and acquisitions, and compliance. The need for legal services is increasing in labor and employment law, insurance defense, healthcare, eDiscovery, and data privacy and security.

The pandemic spurred a critical and expanded partnership between general counsel and legal operations managers. Tasked with optimizing legal resources to increase productivity and revenues while mitigating risks and lowering costs, legal operations professionals play an important role in helping in-house legal teams strategically focus on the business of law. Legal operations managers, typically non-lawyers, with specialized knowledge (e.g., expertise with project management, information governance and financial management practices) are sought by hiring managers and the need for skilled legal professionals should remain acute in the months ahead.

Competitive salaries and perks: Essential to attracting top talent

In today’s candidate-driven market, it’s not surprising that salaries continue to rise for most positions. Job seekers with sought-after skill sets and practice area expertise know what salaries they can command – and aren’t afraid to ask or negotiate for them. Many are receiving signing bonuses and counteroffers. Hiring managers can ensure they are offering competitive compensation by consulting industry resources.

Here are average starting salaries at the national level for several in-house roles. The salaries are from the 2022 Salary Guide from Robert Half, which contains average starting salaries for nearly 50 positions in the legal field.

The salaries are listed by percentile: 50th percentile for candidates with average experience and most of the necessary skills; 75th percentile for candidates with above-average experience and all the needed skills. Bonuses, benefits and other forms of compensation as well as practice area expertise, special skills and certifications are not taken into account. Hiring managers can use the Robert Half 2022 Salary Calculator to benchmark average salaries locally.   

In addition to competitive salaries, job seekers evaluate the perks an organization offers as a way of gauging company culture. Increasingly, benefits such as flextime, remote work, health insurance, retirement savings plans, paid parental leave, and wellness programs can significantly impact a company’s ability to attract and retain top talent.

Other important trends to know in today’s hiring environment

1. Digital skills are essential

The pandemic transformed the legal landscape, with depositions and hearings continuing to be held virtually. However, the need for legal professionals to be tech savvy long predates the pandemic, and job candidates should demonstrate proficiency in the latest digital tools and industry software, such as litigation and practice management. The most sought-after legal professionals will also have ideas on how to leverage technology to improve client services.

Digital expertise is a priority as legal leaders focus on freeing up lawyers to concentrate on legal work. Strategic deployment of tech solutions is a fundamental and integral factor in effective legal operations practices. 

2. Legal teams expand in-house skills with contract professionals 

To meet rising workloads, legal departments may need to hire on a contract basis – legal professionals who can fill gaps and make immediate contributions and specialists who can offer expertise unavailable in-house. 

3. Tech savvy legal support staff in demand

Midlevel paralegals and legal assistants who can conduct case research, manage online calendars, draft legal documents and assist multiple attorneys are highly marketable. These professionals also are needed to assist with video meetings and virtual depositions and court hearings.

4. Growing emphasis on strong interpersonal competencies

Beyond legal experience and knowledge, interpersonal skills are more important than ever. Legal hiring managers are seeking candidates who possess critical capabilities, including:

Increasingly, a key attribute for professionals in any legal role is adaptability. The legal field has gone through profound changes over the past two years, and 2022 could be just as unpredictable. Prepare for hiring by understanding the trends that will significantly impact the legal job market. Doing so now will allow you to fortify your in-house teams and ensure the success of your organization.

Jamy Sullivan is executive director of the legal practice at Robert Half, a premier provider of talent and consulting solutions for a wide range of initiatives in the legal field, including compliance, contract management, data privacy, litigation support and more. Visit RobertHalf.com.