About the author

Jamy J. Sullivan, JD, Executive Director, Robert Half

2023 Hiring and Salary Trends for the Legal Field

By Jamy J. Sullivan, JD, Executive Director, Robert Half

Page Reading Time: 6 minutes

Hiring and retention issues continue to challenge managers in the legal field. Key personnel have been quitting their jobs voluntarily, and in record numbers since the spring of 2021.

Many employees remain confident about their prospects in the current hiring market, which means that hiring managers must continue to be on the lookout for the possibility of their top performers leaving. So, what can employers do to reduce attrition? Managers must be aware of the latest trends in compensation to better address job candidates’ salary expectations and professional concerns, such as wellness benefits and workplace culture. Free resources like the 2023 Robert Half Salary Guide can be helpful tools that offer the latest employment insights.

Here are some important hiring trends that managers in the legal field need to know.

Legal specialists seeing sizable salary increases

The need for specialized expertise is driving hiring in the legal field but nearly 9 in 10 managers (88%) are challenged to find skilled talent. To navigate the competitive candidate market and open new verticals or specialty areas, law firms are hiring associates from adjacent practice areas and corporate legal departments.

On the flip side, corporate legal departments also are expanding internal teams. Many are hiring corporate counsel, paralegals, contract managers, and other specialists to support rising workloads. Many candidates for these roles are seeing sizable pay increases. In addition, corporate legal departments are providing current staff with raises to compete with law firms that try to recruit their employees.

In-demand practice areas include litigation, healthcare and labor and employment, among others. Top candidates for midlevel corporate counsel, paralegal, contract manager and litigation support/eDiscovery director roles are seeing sizable increases in compensation.

Here are several examples of average starting salaries at the national level from Robert Half’s 2023 Salary Guide, which contains salary ranges for nearly 50 positions in the legal field.

Title50th percentile75th percentile
Director, litigation support/eDiscovery (10+ years’ experience)$150,000$186,750
Corporate counsel (4-9 years’ experience)$135,250$163,000
Contract manager$88,000 $112,750
Senior/supervising paralegal (7+ years’ experience)$77,500$98,000

The salaries are listed by percentile: 50th percentile for candidates with average experience and most of the necessary skills; and 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 reflected in the salary ranges and should be taken into account separately. 

When weighing a raise, consider both an employee’s value to the firm and the costs of replacing them. To help benchmark compensation packages, the Salary Guide offers average starting salaries for numerous roles in the legal field. Go to the “Find your local salaries” section of the guide and select the city nearest to you to get local salaries, which reflect regional living costs, talent availability and other factors. Some examples of local starting salaries in San Francisco and Washington, D.C., are below:

Title50th percentile (San Francisco; 35% higher than the national average)50th percentile (Washington, D.C.; 33% higher than the national average)
Director, litigation support/eDiscovery (10+ years’ experience):$202,500$199,500
In-house counsel (4-9 years’ experience)$182,588$179,883
Contract manager$118,800 $117,040
Senior/supervising paralegal (7+ years’ experience)$104,625$103,075

Location flexibility can assist recruitment and retention

Over the past couple of years, high attrition rates have left many teams stretched thin, facing inflated workloads. Many employees are experiencing burnout and companies are reporting increased turnover rates.

Employers in the legal field can’t eliminate turnover, nor should they desire to do so because every business benefits from an occasional infusion of new talent. But a consistent exodus of professionals with in-demand skills and experience is unhealthy, particularly when these top performers are difficult to replace in the current, candidate-driven market. Flexible work arrangements that support employees in maintaining their work-life balance can be the cornerstone of a successful hiring and retention strategy. Contract managers, corporate counsel and litigation support/eDiscovery specialists are among the legal roles that are expected to remain remote long-term.

Contract talent is changing the game

Contract employees with strong legal backgrounds, who can jump right in and be added to or removed from teams based on changing needs, are being used by more and more companies and law firms.

This approach not only gives law firms and companies more financial flexibility and the ability to diversify their legal services, it also can boost the morale and motivation of permanent staff, who may take on new projects without being concerned or overwhelmed as their workloads increase. That might be one of the reasons 44% of hiring managers plan to increase their reliance on contract professionals in the upcoming year.

Employees’ expectations have changed

Since the start of the pandemic, employees’ expectations have changed and the demand for flexibility is here to stay. Our research reveals that 46% of legal hiring managers have had a strong candidate turn down a job that doesn’t offer remote work options. Law firms and companies that are offering more flexibility and remote or hybrid roles are attracting higher numbers of skilled applicants, and these businesses are also retaining key employees.

Employees also want a clear career path within their company. Offering training (upskilling and reskilling) can help keep them engaged while addressing skills gaps and strengthening teams.

Perks and benefits in demand

More than 4 in 10 legal hiring managers (44%) surveyed for our research said inflated workloads and burnout are the primary reasons for their retention struggles. And although money still talks, work-life balance is an important part of the conversation.

When given at least some control over their work arrangements, employees frequently increase their productivity and reduce their stress levels. Flexible schedules, remote work options and condensed work weeks are some of the perks and advantages that are most in demand since they directly support work-life balance.

Employees also are looking to enhance their health and wellbeing, and these benefits go beyond just health insurance and subsidized gym memberships. Fitness, stress reduction, nutrition, mental health, increased vacation time, mindfulness and meditation classes, and financial wellness and retirement planning are a few issues and perks that employees are interested in.

Make professional development a priority

If legal professionals feel their careers are stagnating, they will make the rational decision to move elsewhere. To increase employee retention, launch professional development initiatives, make investments in their training, and assist them in identifying a career path.

Offer training in skills that are in demand in the current business environment. Upskilling in litigation software, online document management, and e-filing systems, for instance, will be welcomed by support personnel, while attorneys will value continuing legal education (CLE) that helps to expand their practice area knowledge.

Reward and recognize achievements

Don’t forget about additional compensation or benefits. Signing, year-end and performance-related bonuses can make employees feel appreciated. Expanding the availability of popular perks or adding new offerings also can help to move the needle.

And keep in mind that showing your appreciation for a job well done and explaining to your legal team how their efforts contribute to the overall success of your law firm or company can go a long way toward improving employee job satisfaction. It might also be a thoughtful gesture to give a token of appreciation, such as a gift card to a favorite shop, restaurant or meal delivery service. 

Reassess succession plans

While no law firm or legal department wants to lose senior leaders, a strong succession plan can help to mitigate the damage. Here are some tips to help identify and prepare emerging leaders to succeed:

  • Expand your talent pool — Create a group of talented lawyers and managers who could one day take on leadership responsibilities rather than relying on a single leader. A group with leadership and law practice management skills will always be valuable, even if not everyone in it makes it to the top.
  • Make advancement easier — Top prospects for leadership roles in the future are eager to advance. With these high achievers, time is of the essence because if they don’t have a clear career development plan, they’ll probably leave. Taking away any barriers that can hinder their development will help facilitate their growth. Where necessary, change their usual schedule to provide them time to manage a firm project or work pro bono for a deserving cause or nonprofit. Their ambition for more senior responsibilities may be piqued by the increased difficulty and change from routine. Inform them frequently of their progress and move them up the in-house ladder as rapidly as you can. If these employees invest their time in training but receive no results, they may become frustrated and take a legal job elsewhere.
  • Provide mentoring — While free CLE and attendance at legal conferences are important benefits, nothing compares to the guidance and expertise of a master mentor. When veteran leaders take the time and effort to share their accumulated knowledge with the next generation, the organization moves one step closer to a smooth transition.

Employers in the legal field that offer work that is both remunerative and flexible stand to gain a competitive edge in these uncertain times. Employee attrition is lower when workers feel appreciated, encouraged, adequately compensated, and given opportunities to grow.

For more strategies to recruit, engage and retain legal professionals, listen to our podcast.

Jamy J. Sullivan is executive director of the legal practice at Robert Half, the world’s first and largest specialized talent solutions firm. Robert Half offers contract and permanent placement solutions, and is the parent company of Protiviti®, a global consulting firm. Visit RobertHalf.com.

* Data referenced is based on online surveys developed by Robert Half and conducted by independent research firms. Respondents included executives, senior managers and employees from small (20-249 employees), medium (250-499 employees) and large (500-plus employees) private, publicly listed and public sector organizations across the United States.