Litigation expected to be top area for new legal jobs in 2017, says survey

The New Year could bring a steady increase in hiring for Canada’s legal landscape, according to a new survey.

Robert Half Legal released a report Thursday that found 30 per cent of lawyers surveyed said they expect their organization will add new positions in the first six months of 2017. Last year, only 23 per cent of respondents said they would be hiring during the equivalent time period.

“In-house legal departments especially are looking to take on more of the work themselves as opposed to outsourcing. Because of that law firms have to be more competitive to offer more,” says Sara Lutecki, division director of Robert Half Legal.

“So they want the top talent with each… it’s a lot harder for them to retain that top talent. So that’s why they have to add a little bit more.”

The survey canvassed 150 lawyers in hiring positions, half of which are employed at law firms with 20 or more employees and the other half are in-house lawyers at companies with more than 1,000 employees.

Of those surveyed, 48 per cent said they expect their organizations will maintain and fill vacated positions. Only 12 per cent said they expected a freeze on hiring and three per cent said they expect a reduction in positions.

The survey also found most new job opportunities are expected to come from litigation. When asked which practice area lawyers think the most new jobs will come from, 31 per cent of respondents said litigation and 26 per cent said corporate law.

The survey found respondents expected 14 per cent of the new legal jobs would be in real estate.

Lutecki says a rise in in-house legal departments taking on their own insurance defense likely accounts for some of the increase.

Warren Bongard, president and co-founder of ZSA Legal Recruitment, says the survey is fairly consistent with what he expects to see in the coming year, but he does not think the rise in litigation positions will come at big firms.

“I see more alternative options to getting litigation done,” he says.

Both Lutecki and Bongard say they expect a higher increase of real estate jobs than is reflected in the survey because of the ever-booming real estate industry.

“There’s been a shortage of well trained real estate lawyers in the country,” Bongard says.

The survey also found that 55 per cent of lawyers said finding skilled legal professionals is somewhat or very challenging. A further 33 per cent said they were concerned about losing lawyers to other opportunities in the next six months.

This may sound like welcome news to young lawyers looking for a job, but Lutecki says they have found most firms hiring are looking for highly skilled lawyers with at least five years of experience in areas such as commercial litigation and insurance defense.

“The one trend that we have seen firms do is hire on a project basis and that is to see what needs they have and if they do have an opening for a permanent position. I have had a lot of more junior lawyers start out in roles like that,” she says.

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