Predictions for the Legal Hiring Market in 2022 from Legal Industry Leaders

February 15, 2022

2021 was a year like no other in legal recruiting.

Law firms found themselves locked in a battle to recruit and retain lawyers in all practices, particularly in corporate and litigation.

In addition, the in-house market has experienced a hiring frenzy of its own. Companies, in virtually all industries, need to hire more lawyers, creating additional competition for law firms in talent war.

These changes would have taken at least a decade to cement in place, but they arrived due to the pandemic in record time. It is unlikely that huge shifts in behavior will occur in 2022 without such a push.

Our Jobs Program, which monitors more than 1000 law firms and 24 fortune 500 companies, hit a new high for legal openings in January 2022 reaching 12,000 open legal jobs. That is a 300% increase from July 2020.

We expect hiring to continue full tilt through the year. It takes significantly longer to recruit someone than it does for them to give notice and depart. The solution, then, is to immediately bolster retention while ramping up your recruiting efforts. We believe that firms then must continue to elevate the employee experience.

It’s clear from our conversations with industry leaders during our research for the 2021 Leopard State of the Industry Report that the hyper-competitive market for law firm talent is showing no signs of slowing down in 2022.

Here’s what they had to say about what may happen in 2022 and beyond in the legal hiring market.

  • Laura Leopard, the CEO and Founder of Leopard Solutions, cautions firms to “make talent a renewable resource by providing upskilling, reskilling and upward-mobility opportunities that can make a substantive and measurable difference to the success of the individual and the organization” in order to retain your people.
  • Jeffrey Lowe, the Law Firm Global Practice Leader at Major, Lindsey & Africa, expects that the lateral market will remain as hot in 2022 as it has been in 2021, and “blue-chip firms will accelerate their poaching of partners from one another. However, nearly two years of COVID has chiseled away the glue that binds lawyers together at BigLaw. Soaring profits have hidden the fractures, but what will happen when the market cools?”
  • Phil Flora, the Director of Sales and Marketing at Leopard Solutions, notes that, “Firms have pulled out all the stops to attract the top-level talent that they need. From raising salaries to offering signing bonuses to paying off law school loans to allowing lawyers to work remotely for the first time and hiring lawyers to work in cities where they did not have offices, firms were forced to step outside of their comfort zones in order to meet their hiring needs.”
  • As David Lat, lawyer turned journalist who writes Original Jurisdiction, a newsletter on the Substack platform about law and the legal profession told us, “It’s hard to imagine a return to the five-days-in-the-office work week. Any firm that insists on that will risk losing talent to peer firms that exhibit more flexibility. On the bright side for firms, more remote work will allow firms to continue to reduce their office footprints and real estate spending—a trend that was already underway pre-pandemic and has only picked up steam over the past two years.”
  • Jill Caughie, the Director of Lateral Integration at Cozen O’Connor, notes, “I expect that the high level of competition for legal talent the industry saw build throughout 2021 will continue in at least the first half of 2022. Our firm is focused on exploring and implementing new ways of strengthening relationships across the firm, particularly as we continue to adapt to a hybrid in-person virtual workplace.”
  • In terms of diversity, David Lat said, “Firms will continue to focus on diversity in hiring. Interestingly enough, the extremely high demand for corporate associates has helped on this front. I’ve heard from a number of diverse lawyers who previously had a hard time breaking into BigLaw but are now getting multiple interviews and offers. Because the talent needs of law firms are so great, they are open to a wider range of talent than they were before the pandemic.”
  • Yvonne Nath, a law firm strategy consultant at LawVision LLC, noted that, “2022 is ‘The Year for Talent’ in law firms.” She also thinks that “Throwing money at talent is a short-term strategy to bait them, but it will not necessarily lead to retention. Law firms must prevent attorney burnout and address their changing values to retain them for the longer term. Law firms that cannot sustain participation in compensation wars will look more to improving their cultures to motivate talent in other ways. Upskilling existing talent and hiring talent with NewLaw skills will help firms optimize their team’s performance. They will also look to technology and alternative staffing models to support their needs.”
  • Trish Lilley, CMBDO of Stroock, Stroock & Lavan says, “The battle for talent – from both the recruitment and retention perspectives – now hinges much more heavily on culture, on inclusivity, on agility. Firms that have responded to pandemic-driven business conditions by creatively re-envisioning work across the spectrum – from meaningful onboarding and professional development to robust leadership training and benefits offerings – will pull ahead of those laboring within “before-times” structures. The Great Resignation has demonstrated that money – while key – isn’t everything to everyone. Firms need to give people compelling reasons to come and to stay.”
  • Michael Short, a founding principal and law firm strategist at LawVision LLC, cautions firms to refocus on their culture. “Your culture is the glue. All law firms are collections of free agents that choose to reassemble every day and the reason they reassemble is because of culture. However traditional culture has been stretched with work from home. I hear from clients that talk of hiring a young person, who then left to go to another firm, without ever meeting anyone. We are in a new normal. Law firms have to re-impart the concept of culture in their firms or else they risk being one of the many fungible organizations where people will just hop around for dollars. I’m not saying everyone has to go back into the office but there have to be opportunities for people to connect and get mentored in the way they are looking for to grow.”

Download your free copy of the 2021 Leopard Solutions State of the Industry Report.