Corporate law, litigation, and IP in demand for fourth quarter

Despite uncertainty in the financial markets, a report from Robert Half International in Canada indicates in-house departments and law firms will continue to be hiring in the fourth quarter with corporate law and litigation predicted to see the most growth in the next three months. Intellectual property is also expected to be strong in certain markets.

Many law firms say they are hiring senior-level associates to meet renewed demand for their services, particularly those specializing in the hottest practice areas, according to "The Robert Half Professional Employment Report" released last week. According to the report, 43 per cent of lawyers surveyed at law firms and corporations indicated they are likely to increase hiring in the fourth quarter of 2011. Most of the hiring is expected at law firms. That is down six per cent from the third quarter when 49 per cent of lawyers indicated they planned to increase staff levels.

Among the 150 lawyers surveyed for the report, 93 per cent said they are at least somewhat confident in their organizations' ability to expand in the fourth quarter.

In fact the legal sector had the largest number reporting plans to increase hiring compared to other professions such as advertising and marketing (27 per cent), sales and business development (25 per cent), information technology (24 per cent), accounting and finance (13 per cent) and human resources (11 per cent).

However, filling those positions won't be easy. Those interviewed acknowledged challenges in locating top candidates: 81 per cent said they thought it was somewhat or very challenging to recruit skilled legal professionals today.

Lawyers, law clerks, paralegals, and legal assistants are the positions in greatest demand for the fourth quarter. Lawyers cited corporate law and litigation as the areas that will experience the most growth in the next three months. In addition, intellectual property is strong in certain markets.

Increased business activity is stimulating demand for lawyers and legal support staff with experience in a broad range of matters related to general corporate and business law, states the report. A rise in legal disputes and litigation is fuelling hiring of associates, law clerks, paralegals, and legal secretaries with backgrounds in labour relations and employment, commercial litigation, and insurance defence.

An increase in patent filings and applications is prompting law firms and corporations to hire IP lawyers, patent agents and paralegals with three to five years of experience.

The quarterly report is based on more than 1,000 telephone interviews with executives from a random sample of Canadian companies across a number of industries, including 75 lawyers at law firms with 20 or more employees and 75 corporate lawyers at companies with 1,000 or more employees.

During the American Bar Association in Toronto last month a panel of in-house counsel was asked about the current state of hiring in their respective areas. Terrie-Lynne Devonish, chief counsel of AON Canada Inc., said her department is looking to hire two additional lawyers to add to the current department of two.

"I would say if you're a mid-level associate in Toronto, right now, it's not too bad a market. Most companies see the value of having in-house counsel both to manage their legal risk and their legal spend and definitely value they can see off the bottom line," said Devonish.

Compared to the U.S., the Canadian landscape looks promising for those seeking employment in the legal field. Graduates coming out of law school in the U.S. are having a tough time, said Michelle Coleman Mayes, and that has a ripple effect.

"It's kind of a crazy market and it kind of depends on what business cycle your industry is in," said Coleman Mayes, executive vice-president and general counsel with Allstate in Northbrook, Ill. "If you're at Google, they're hiring. We happen to be hiring sporadically, not aggressively, but we don't have a freeze on. We are watching our dollars and cents very closely. Our market share has been eroding but the department has been the same size for several years. I would say it is still really tentative."

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