E-discovery experts can expect highest salary bump in 2016

The next year will see increased hiring activity in the Canadian legal market and lawyers can expect a 2.7-per-cent overall uptick in salaries, according to a new survey by Robert Half Legal salary guide.

“Steady improvement in the legal employment market is expected across the nation. Law firms are strategically supplementing their teams, especially in high-demand practice areas such as real estate, corporate law and litigation,” the guide says. “In particular, small and midsize firms are doing much of the hiring.”

Law firm lawyers with 10 years of experience should expect an even greater raise, the guide says, but demand is on the rise for in-house counsel as well.

“Corporate legal departments are responding to increasing business demands and adding staff at every level to address legal work related to compliance requirements, contract administration and industry-specific issues,” according to the guide, which says technology, financial services, energy, and insurance are among sectors that have seen increased hiring.

The “candidate-driven market” is a result of high demand for specialized legal skillsets, says Gene Roberts, division director of Robert Half Legal in Toronto. “It’s making those people who have those specialized legal talents far more in demand because of the breadth of things they can kind of take on,” he says.

Legal professionals with specialized skills are often receiving competitive counter-offers, said Charles Volkert, executive director of Robert Half Legal.

“Employers who are reluctant to offer competitive compensation packages or expedite the hiring process risk losing highly sought-after legal professionals to other organizations,” he said.

When it comes to legal specialists, e-discovery experts are going to see the largest gains in their annual base compensation, Robert Half also predicts. Litigation Support and e-discovery directors with 10 or more years of experience will see a 5.8-per-cent uptick in pay next year, with salaries expected to be in the range of $98,500 to $129,750.

“As litigation becomes far more intricate and complicated, these matters are starting to see a lot more attention and a lot more hands-on work,” Roberts says, adding that law firms and law departments are seeking professional help to do collection and review work in cost-effective ways.

Firms “are seeing that sometimes it makes more sense to have a specialized team of e-discovery lawyers come in to do a document review rather than having articling students or [junior] associates handling these absolutely massive and complicated matters,” Roberts adds.

By the numbers:

• Average starting salaries for lawyers at law firms are expected to increase 3.5 per cent in 2016.

• Lawyers with 10 or more years of experience working at a midsize law firm (35 to 75 lawyers) are expected to see a pay increase of 4.5 per cent from 2015. That’s an average range of $165,250 to $233,500 annually.

• At a small-to-midsize law firm (10 to 35 lawyers), lawyers with 10 or more years of experience should see starting salaries go up by 4.2 per cent to the range of $139,750 to $203,250 per year.

• First-year associates in big firms (75 lawyers or more) are expected to earn between $87,250 and $99,750, a 3-per-cent increase over Robert Half Legal’s 2015 projections.

• In-house counsel are projected to see an average raise of 2.9 per cent from 2015. Pay for corporate lawyers with four to nine years of experience at large companies (more than $250 million in revenue) is expected to go up by 3.3 per cent to the range of $149,500 to $246,000 annually.

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