Optimistic Outlook for In-House Hiring of Lawyers

The Wall Street Journal Law Blog reports on “a breath of spring in a job market that’s been wintry for far too long.” Given our recent post documenting the latest dismal numbers for law firm hiring of law students, it’s refreshing to hear from the Association of Corporate Counsel’s (ACC) 10th Annual Chief Legal Officer Survey that things seem to be looking up for hiring of in-house lawyers.

According to the ACC survey, the outlook for Chief Legal Officers is showing signs of optimism, with increased job satisfaction and internal hiring plans for 2010.

Some key points to note from the survey:

• Uptick in hiring/staffing: There was a greater focus on internal hiring in legal departments, as well as an increase in corporate attorneys outside the U.S. Despite the recession, more than a quarter (29%) of the respondents plan to hire staff for their in-house legal departments in 2010,up from 23% who had hiring plans in last year’s survey.

• Job satisfaction is strong: Even with increased scrutiny and expanded duties, an overwhelming majority of respondents (91%) reported they are still satisfied with their chosen career, up from 88% in 2008.

• Increase in workload, demand for alternative fees and decrease in outside counsel work: Even with this uptick in staffing, the recession has impacted legal departments’ workload, budget and outside counsel spend. More than one-third (34%) of respondents reported a cut in spending on outside counsel, and those who did employ outside counsel used more alternative fee arrangements. (Of course, the downside is that this could mean less work for law firms, and fewer jobs for lawyers and law students at those firms).

While the optimistic outlook for hiring of in-house lawyers is a bright spot on the legal employment horizon, Ashby Jones, Lead Writer of The Wall Street Journal Law Blog notes in his post that, “of course, this doesn’t mean that the floodgates have opened. Nor does it mean that in-house jobs are going to be easy to get.”

The increase in in-house hires may just be a glimmer of hope or it could be more of a restructuring caused by the recession, as suggested by ACC deputy general counsel, James Merklinger. Merklinger says in a recent post on Corporate Counsel: “The added hiring most suggests that the recession is forcing chief legal officers to change the way they operate. They’re bringing more work in-house, spending less on outside counsel, and boosting spending on alternative fee arrangements, the survey shows.”

Still, someone has to get those in-house jobs, right?

Ashby Jones of The Wall Street Journal’s Law Blog was a guest on a recent Law School Podcaster segment, “The Current Economic Environment: What It Means for Law School Applicants and Students.” Check out the full show to hear more on this topic.