There may be a glimmer of hope for attorneys who have been let go due to the economic downturn.
According to a study released by Robert Half Legal, a legal staffing company, 25 percent of the 300 lawyers surveyed say they expect to increase their staffing levels over the next 12 months, especially in their bankruptcy and litigation practices.
While that number is significantly lower than the 45 percent who said they expected staff increases in 2008, it does mean that there are firms out there who are still looking to bring people on board. Those associates with between three and five years of experience are going to be particularly sought after.
“The survey shows that there is finally some good news for associates who have been released for whatever reason,” says Jim Patton, regional vice president of legal affairs at Robert Half.
The survey also found that 65 percent of those surveyed this year expect their staff levels to remain the same, and only 10 percent expect further reductions.
Patton says the data show that firms are trying to reposition themselves to take advantage of the shift in the marketplace: moving away from the real estate and M&A work which was hot in 2008, and toward litigation and bankruptcy.
The study also found that Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and patent enforcement practices could also be staffing up in the coming months.
“In revenue-tightening economic environments, people are going to be looking to protect whatever revenue streams they have,” Patton says.
Patton says in order to take advantage of the economic downturn, some attorneys might have to rethink their “career management approach.” He says that may mean some out of work attorneys should consider getting out of law for a while and using their undergraduate degrees to find a job in a different sector.
“This survey brings some hope to a very sketchy marketplace in that if individuals position themselves appropriately, they can become much more marketable in certain areas,” Patton says.
The survey polled 300 attorneys who had spent at least three years in their current position at some of the top law firms and in-house legal departments in the U.S. and Canada.