Legal Jobs Report: October 2015

An employment summary based on the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ (BLS) October 2015 monthly jobs report.

On October 2nd, BLS announced a less-than-expected 142,000 new jobs for the month of September, falling 58,000 jobs short of Wall Street’s expectations. Also, the government revised last month’s employment figures from 173,000 to 136,000—missing expectations by 84,000 jobs.

Legal Jobs Report for October 2015 - Chart Showing 142,000 New Jobs Added in September

The national unemployment rate remains unchanged at 5.1 percent, but the labor participation rate has dipped lower to 62.4 (from 62.6 percent), a 38-year low, which means 94 million Americans are out of work. Federal Reserve chairwoman Janet Yellen had previously said that the U.S. economy is strong enough to support the first rate hike in nearly a decade, but Friday’s BLS report now makes that scenario unlikely in the near future.

Here is BLS’s latest breakdown of employment gains in key sectors:

  • Legal: +5,000
  • Healthcare: +34,000
  • Information: +12,000
  • Professional and business services: +31,000

What this means for legal job candidates

In September, the U.S. economy added 4,700 new jobs in legal services—and there has been no significant change in this sector for the past three months. Law school enrollment continues to decline.

Practitioners need to continuously differentiate their services in a competitive market. More clients are pushing back on legal fees that are perceived to be out of line in terms of value-add. Today’s legal staff would be prudent to seek ways to boost productivity (perhaps through hiring virtual assistants), manage costs (perhaps through the outsourcing of backroom activities) and become up-to-date in legal innovations and technology (such as electronic discovery).

Here are BLS’s estimated growth rates (2012 to 2022) for key legal positions:

  1. Secretaries and administrative assistants: 12 percent
  2. Paralegals and legal assistants: 17 percent
  3. Lawyers: 10 percent

The projected growth rate for all occupations is 11 percent. Also, the growth of emerging practices—such as electronic discovery—is expected to significantly outperform that of traditional legal jobs.

What this means for employers

There are over 1.25 million workers who provide legal services in the U.S. The legal hubs are concentrated in big cities like New York, District of Columbia (D.C.) and Los Angeles. Boston, New York and Los Angeles are considered hubs for electronic discovery. Also, New Orleans and Nashville have the highest percentage increase in legal employment.

Here are the top 10 legal jobs and their average salary:

  1. Staff attorney: $93,392
  2. Paralegal: $56,472
  3. Legal assistant: $52,209
  4. Records manager: $76,970
  5. General counsel: $215,101
  6. Risk manager: $101,351
  7. Title underwriter: $56,700
  8. Loan processor: $35,537
  9. Contract manager: $94,579
  10. Escrow officer: $43,727

Aside from knowing current salary trends, as well as, evolving nature of key legal responsibilities (thanks to electronic discovery), recruiters must continuously replace retiring Baby Boomers with Millennials and Generation Zers. Baby Boomers are permanently heading for the exits at a rate of 10,000 per day.

Studies also show that more than two-thirds of smaller-size law firms don’t survive beyond their founding partners. The challenge for legal’s HR managers will be to develop and create a game plan that integrates up to four generations at the office, as well as, establish a succession plan that leads to continuity in a competitive legal market.

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