The Legal Job Market in 2020: What Will In-House Hiring Look Like?

Despite some volatility this past year, hiring in the legal industry continues to climb, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Here at PS Companies, we’ve seen the trend in legal job growth play out with clients from Milwaukee to Minneapolis for the last several years, and we expect it will continue in 2020.

We’ve also seen demand for in-house counsel outpace hiring in law firms, a trend supported by data published in September by ALM Intelligence and The American Lawyer. Out of that trend comes a question we’ve heard many times this past year from our corporate clients: How can we improve recruiting and retention of high performers in the in-house counsel environment?

Let’s start by looking at some of the top reasons we see in-house counsel leave:

  • lack of internal promotion opportunities – with few positions above them, especially in smaller in-house departments, attorneys must change companies to maintain an upward career trajectory
  • lack of challenge – unchanging job responsibilities represent job security for some, and boredom for others. It’s this second group that will look to change industries or practices areas so they aren’t pigeonholed down the road.
  • lack of flexibility – rigid rules about work hours and location turn some off, especially younger attorneys who prioritize work-life balance, and are more fluid in their transitions between work and personal lives.

Each of these reasons is an opportunity to change your in-house counsel environment so it’s more attractive to the high-performing talent you need on your team.

It’s also helpful to review your ideas about the ideal in-house candidate. Are you recruiting for the skills and aptitudes that will best serve your company in the digital business environment?  As Eric C. Nelson, Senior Vice President and Associate General Counsel, Corporate, at Fiserv shared with us, “Continued adoption of technologies like AI and RPA in the legal profession to eliminate basic or routine tasks puts a premium on a lawyer’s ability to deftly understand business goals, efficiently distill facts, ascertain relevant legal requirements across multiple disciplines and apply sound business judgment. These are the skills that will help companies meet the ever-increasing expectations in areas like innovation, security, compliance and ease of use.”  If your company has experienced higher-than-usual turnover lately, part of the reason could be misalignment between an in-house attorney’s abilities and evolving company goals.

We expect that competition for skilled, experienced in-house attorneys will continue to be fierce in this coming year. If you’re finding it a challenge, give us a call. Our understanding of the Great Lakes states market can help you meet your hiring goals in 2020.