Renewed Business Activity Spurs In-House Hiring

Monday, November 4, 2013 - 13:44

Hiring in corporate legal departments has strengthened as general counsel focus on expanding their internal teams to support renewed business activity, comply with new regulations and manage rising workloads.

According to the newly released 2014 Salary Guide from Robert Half Legal, the general outlook for the year ahead seems to be one of growing optimism. Legal professionals with compliance, litigation support, corporate transactional and contract administration experience are in strong demand in many corporate environments.

The Salary Guide includes starting salary ranges for more than 100 legal positions in corporate legal departments and law firms. Information sources include the company’s staffing and recruiting professionals who specialize in the legal field and make thousands of full-time and project placements each year, our comprehensive analysis of current and future hiring trends and the extensive workplace research we conduct regularly among senior-level lawyers with the largest law firms and corporations in the United States and Canada. The information presented here, culled from the pages of this year’s guide, can help corporate counsel navigate the legal hiring market, validate hiring and compensation trends, and gauge appropriate salary levels.

Specialization in Demand

Despite a deep applicant pool for many legal positions, the 2014 Salary Guide points to a tightening market for experienced legal candidates in growing specialties. Perhaps reflecting this situation, more than half (53 percent) of lawyers surveyed by Robert Half Legal said it is somewhat or very challenging for their law firms or companies to find skilled legal professionals today. In many cases, corporate legal departments are going head-to-head with law firms in the search for talented professionals as companies look to expand their internal legal teams.

Among those seeing the greatest opportunities are experienced associates and paralegals. These highly skilled professionals are being hired by general counsel to manage a larger volume of legal matters in-house and contain spending on outside counsel. Legal professionals with backgrounds in compliance, corporate transactional and contract administration, especially those who possess deep knowledge of a particular industry or sector, are being sought by corporate employers. In particular, they seek experienced candidates who can immediately apply their expertise to ongoing cases and projects.

Following are some of the hottest legal specialties identified by Robert Half Legal, along with factors driving hiring in these areas:

  • Litigation. Corporate and commercial litigation remain active practice areas. An increase in insurance defense, antitrust lawsuits, labor and employment, and class actions is spurring demand for lawyers, paralegals and legal secretaries with expertise in these areas. Those who can help manage e-discovery and litigation support-related initiatives are especially sought after.
  • General business/corporate law. Work stemming from regulatory compliance activities and business growth initiatives is creating opportunities for talented corporate law specialists. Experienced full-time and project-based personnel are sought to provide guidance and support for commercial transactions, corporate securities, contract administration, regulatory compliance and other legal matters in corporate environments.
  • Compliance. Lawyers surveyed by Robert Half Legal cited “compliance or regulation issues” as a top business challenge facing their departments this year, and this focus is increasing the demand for lawyers and paralegals with backgrounds in compliance and regulatory law. Specialized assistance also is needed in government contracts work.
  • Privacy, data security and information law. Legal professionals with experience in cases related to data security and protecting confidential information are being hired by companies and law firms to assist with developing privacy policies, complying with recent regulations, and assessing business risks and legal issues.
  • Intellectual property. The need to protect proprietary resources is a priority at companies of all sizes in virtually every industry. This is ensuring steady demand for lawyers and legal support professionals with expertise in patent, trademark and copyright law.
  • Healthcare. Growing complexities associated with the implementation of recent reforms and regulations - the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, in particular - are contributing to legal hiring in the healthcare arena. Prospects are especially bright for lawyers and paralegals with in-depth knowledge of the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries.

Looking ahead, Robert Half Legal surveyed lawyers with the largest law firms and corporations in the United States about which areas of law they expect to experience the most growth in the next two years. Healthcare ranked first, with 30 percent of the survey response, followed by general business/commercial law (14 percent), litigation (13 percent), privacy, data security and information law (12 percent), and intellectual property (5 percent).

Flexible Staffing On The Rise

Not only is full-time hiring increasing, but the use of project legal professionals also is on the rise. In fact, the Association of Corporate Counsel’s Chief Legal Officers (CLO) 2013 Survey found that the hiring and use of contract lawyers had increased 59 percent over the previous year.

Corporate legal departments and their outside law firms are bringing in associates, paralegals and legal support staff on a project basis to augment the efforts of in-house teams and access specialized expertise that may not be available internally, such as for e-discovery and managed review matters.

The flexibility engendered by this approach to staffing legal teams enables organizations to stay nimble, keep pace with expanding workloads and maintain better control over human resources budgets. In addition, bringing in interim specialists at periods of high intensity not only can relieve core staff during those times, helping to reduce burnout and turnover, but also can add expertise that may be needed for a limited time only.

Success Factors

What do corporate legal departments look for when evaluating candidates? Practice area expertise, strong soft skills and business acumen remain important factors when hiring and essential attributes for success in a corporate environment.

As corporate counsel increasingly act as both business and legal advisers, it’s important that they’re able to deliver insights not only on legal matters, but also in relation to a company’s overall business operations and goals. In-house legal professionals who can work well with others, inside and outside the department, also are highly valued.

In-House Compensation Trends

While salaries have not yet returned to prerecession levels, many employers are adjusting compensation packages to attract top talent and retain valued employees. Legal professionals with backgrounds in high-demand practice areas are likely to see above-average salary increases, multiple employment offers, signing bonuses and counteroffers.

According to research conducted for the Robert Half Legal Salary Guide, salaries for in-house counsel positions in 2014 are expected to see modest increases, on average, over 2013 levels. For example, in-house counsel with 10-plus years’ experience at a large company (more than $250 million dollars in revenue) should see average starting salary ranges from $171,750 to $245,750, a 3.7 percent increase from 2013. In-house counsel with the same experience level at a midsize company ($25 million to $250 million dollars in revenue) can expect to see average starting salaries of $139,500 to $216,000, a 3.5 percent increase from 2013 levels.  Corporate counsel with four to nine years’ experience at a large company will see starting salaries ranging from $148,250 to $204,500, a 3.4 percent increase. In-house counsel with three or less years’ experience can expect average starting salaries of $118,000 to $151,750 at a large company, a 3.0 percent increase from 2013 levels.  

Paralegals are expected to see slight gains in starting salaries. A senior/supervising paralegal or legal assistant with seven-plus years’ experience at a large company is likely to see average annual pay ranging from $69,750 to $92,500, a 2.2 percent increase over 2013. A paralegal/legal assistant with the same level of experience at a small company (up to $25 million dollars in revenue) can expect salary ranges from $59,000 to $73,250, a 2.1 percent increase over 2013 ranges.

Although the positions and ranges given here are national averages, the Salary Guide provides a formula with regional variances factored in that allows users to calculate approximate salary ranges for legal positions in more than 130 U.S. cities.

To download a complimentary PDF of the Robert Half Legal 2014 Salary Guide and obtain more detailed information on compensation and hiring trends, including a Salary Calculator, infographics and video content, visit our Salary Center at 


Making a Job Offer Candidates Can’t Refuse

Here are some tips:

  • Extend the offer immediately.  After you make up your mind about hiring a candidate, don’t wait to make an offer. Even a day’s delay could result in the loss of a candidate to another opportunity.
  • Alert the candidate right away. Make the job offer verbally by phone, then, follow up with an official offer letter or email.
  • Lay your cards on the table. Call the person you want to hire and review the pay, benefits and perks. If you don’t have these details nailed down yet, you’re not ready to make the offer.
  • Continue to promote your company. In addition to the financial aspects of the offer, remind the candidate of the benefits of joining your company, such as flexible work arrangements or training options, so they feel good about becoming a member of your legal team.
  • Stay in touch. Remain connected  while a candidate is considering the offer. Reinforce your enthusiasm about having him or her join your legal department.
  • Be prepared to negotiate. Determine in advance how far you’re willing to go if the candidate wishes to negotiate salary or other aspects of the job offer. You don’t want to get so caught up in negotiations that you lose sight of what’s appropriate for your organization. Likewise, you don’t want to lose a great prospect over a minor negotiation point.

Charles A. Volkert is Executive Director of Robert Half Legal, a leading staffing service specializing in the placement of lawyers, paralegals, legal administrators and other legal professionals with law firms and corporate legal departments. The company also provides legal project teams, along with dedicated project space and high-tech resources, for a wide range of initiatives including litigation support, e-discovery and managed review. Based in Menlo Park, Calif., Robert Half Legal has offices in major North American and international markets.

Please email the author at with questions about this article.