The legal services sector saw slight job gains nationally in July, adding about 1,900 jobs over June, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The BLS does not keep Colorado-specific data about the industry, but several people at local legal recruiting and staffing firms have gotten a feel for the state of the legal job market as the economy rapidly contracted, began recovery and then saw its upward progress slow again. The Colorado hiring market for both law firms and in-house legal departments seems to have started a tentative recovery after a few months of stagnation in the spring.
Mala Saraogi, senior vice president and the director of permanent services at Robert Half, said she has a sense that the recent slight pickup in hiring is due to companies needing to adjust and operate within the new normal created by the pandemic.
“We’re in it for a while … and we have to get our work done,” she said.
Marcus Ollig, president and founder of legal services recruiting agencies The Advocates and Targeted Legal Staffing Solutions, said he has seen law firms’ economic and hiring situations tend to fall into a few broad categories: firms that are doing well economically and continuing to hire, others that are still growing but at a slower pace than before the pandemic and firms that are struggling to tread water. He added his companies work with firms of all sizes.
He said his companies have been trying to “anticipate where the hiring was coming from.” “There were layoffs in April, there were layoffs in May and there were some further layoffs in June. In June it started to stabilize, I think. He added in an email that in July, “Hiring started to come back and the market stabilized.”
Dudley Morton, a managing director of Major Lindsey & Africa in Denver for the firm’s in-house counsel recruiting, said many of the firm’s ongoing staffing searches went on hold when the pandemic hit. Even companies with healthy balance sheets froze hiring until they understood how the pandemic would affect them economically. But he said some of those searches have resumed. Morton added in-house counsel have seen the need for their roles amplified during the pandemic because of the number of novel legal issues that have come up for companies.
“Definitely the in-house teams were feeling the crunch because they still had their day-to-day work to do and on top of that managing all things COVID,” he said. “Labor and employment issues are right at the top of the list, moving workforces to remote and dealing with sick leave and everything else.”
Firms’ economic health and hiring activity has seemed to vary in different areas of law. Ollig said firms with practice areas that have been amplified during the pandemic and resulting recession, such as bankruptcy and restructuring, employment law and litigation, have tended to be the ones doing well. He added that while firms that already have those types of practices could expand them based on the increased demand for services created by the pandemic, it wouldn’t be realistic for law firms to create those practice specialties from scratch right now.
Saraogi said family and probate law services have been especially active. She added the pandemic has increased people’s sense of urgency for creating wills and estate planning. And more people may also be getting divorced, she said, having had revelations about their relationships while spending more time at home than normal the past several months.
“We cannot fill family law jobs enough. Probate law [and] estate planning have been very busy; they haven’t missed a beat,” Saraogi said.
Morton said hiring searches for in-house attorneys in industries such as health care, bioscience and pharmaceuticals have tended to continue. He added companies that consider hiring for general counsel positions a critical need right now have continued their searches in spite of the economic downturn.
“It’s probably easier to pass on hiring a junior-level attorney and spread that work around to other attorneys in the group than it is to say [they’re] not going to hire the general counsel for another six months or a year,” he said, adding about the legal jobs market in general, “Things are picking up a little bit, but I think it still may [be] into 2021 before things really get moving again.”