The Ice Age of In-House Legal Hiring Might Be Over

How long can in-house legal departments go on without hiring? As the last economic storm demonstrated, hiring freezes can last a pretty long time. But according to a recent report by InsideCounsel, the ice age of in-house legal hiring may be thawing out. How Much hiring Are We Talking About? While not everyone is exactly in agreement, the general consensus seems to be that hiring is nevertheless on the rise. Hildebrandt Baker Robbins' 2010 Law Department Survey reports that 41% of law departments expect an increase in lawyers between 2010 and 2011. Robert Half 's recent survey reported 29-31% of legal employers planning on increasing their numbers. No matter the source, over 50% of all legal departments are not planning to hire. At least, they are no longer in a firing mood. Only about 8-9% expect a decrease, which is an improvement over 30% between 2008 and 2009 according to the same Hildebrandt survey. No one expects any type of hiring frenzy, or even levels to get back to pre-recession levels, but at least the bleeding is over, and legal departments may be growing weary of doing "more with less," at least to some extent. Companies that downsized a bit too much to survive the recession may still be enjoying the savings. It will be difficult to get senior management to buy into an increase in headcount, unless they have very compelling reasons to do so. Chances are, in-house legal department that are ready to increase their capabilities will go into hiring toe first, starting with temporary and contract hires to test out the waters. What's The Hiring Like In-House? In-house employers are demanding more, for less. In other words, they are favoring candidates with more experience, often hiring candidates with 5-10 years more experience than the minimum required for the position. At the same time, they have no qualms about offering the same senior candidates lower level salaries that were initially calculated for someone 5-10 years more junior. And they can getaway with it. It's all about supply and demand. The market is flooded with applicants. It's not just a numbers game; the applicant pool is also very deep. The skill level of those being considered for in-house positions is astonishing. In-house employers are not only demanding more experience and better credentials for less money, but also more practice breadth and depth. Potential candidates need to be experts in their practice area, as well as be able to practice in a multitude of other areas. They are "jacks of all trade, and at least master of one." In-house candidates are also required to have industry-specific experience, strong business backgrounds, and excellent interpersonal skills. They have to be the "total package." While the in-house job market is heating up, there's still a disparity between the number of job openings and the number of applicants. Therefore, for those seeking in-house jobs, patience is key. What can in-house legal job seekers do to improve their chances? Continue to work on their skill set, network, and keep their ears and eyes open. While the ice may be melting, it's still very slippery out there, and not everyone will land on their feet just yet.

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