The Pandemic and the 2022 Legal Market

Pandemic Market

2020 and 2021 were quite an astonishing roller-coaster in the legal hiring market. We saw firms go from significant pay cuts, large lay-offs and massive fear to one of the strongest hiring markets in over a decade. 

2020 and the onset of the pandemic resulted in immediate firm fear that clients would not be able to pay their bills on time and would cut back on work given the economic situation and the uncertainty of what lay ahead.  Hiring completely paused at many firms in the country.  We saw big name firms cut salaries by large percentages across all employee levels from staff up to senior partners.  Recruiters began to leave the market in droves, not seeing many opportunities to be able to place candidates in the current legal market.

As a lot of these fears receded over time, primarily with firms seeing that clients were paying fees and still hiring them juxtaposed with a booming real estate market and other economic factors, the corporate world began to blow up in business at an unpredicted high rate.  Firms started to give back the pay cuts to their employees including retroactively paying them for what was cut.

Although this change did not happen overnight — as firms needed to wrap their heads around thriving in a completely remote work from home world the pandemic imposed – it almost felt very sudden.  It was as if all firms at the same time suddenly realized that the work was coming in quickly, and that they did not have the talent and capacity to fill it.  Many firms found themselves turning down work due to an inability to handle the volume.

At the same time, they realized that remote hiring through video interviewing software actually was a feasible way to hire new talent.  (And may be one of the most long-term impacts of the pandemic, we believe most big law firms will not require candidates to fly in anymore for interviews going forward). 

By 2021, we were seeing staggering hiring in the corporate space at levels we had not seen before.  Candidates who in times past might get one interview were now getting 5 plus interviews at reach firms.   Rumors swirled about impossible to believe large bonuses being paid to poach corporate candidates (And for the most part, those high numbers were extreme unrealistic outliers, but we have seen most corporate offers come with strong 5-figure signing bonuses, which had not been the case in the past).  Corporate remained strong all through 2021, and still is booming as we type this article.

It is important to note that this boom in the market has primarily hit the corporate side.  The same is not true in litigation, which tends to always be slow and steady.  While litigation has been stronger than in prior years, it has not reached anywhere near the levels we are seeing in needs in the corporate space and lateral moves will still prove to be a longer process for most litigation candidates.

2022 Predictions

As we enter 2022, the question we are getting from all over the market is what we think will happen in law firm hiring.  Will we continue to see a desperate need for corporate associates?  Will it settle back down to normal hiring levels? Will we continue to see massive attrition amongst firms full of attorneys trying to take advantage of this unusual market?   Will other practice areas start booming?

Here at Top Tier Legal Search, we believe the corporate boom is not going anywhere anytime soon in this legal job market.  This is partially because most of the candidate who decided to take advantage of the booming market have made that move already. Yet, firms still do not have enough attorneys to handle the volume, especially with the sophistication they require for the roles.   

We expect strong hiring and opportunities in the M&A, fund formation, investment funds, capital markets, banking, and finance space well into 2022.  Real estate needs have also begun to develop in the market, and we are seeing more and more of those openings coming out across the country.  This may be where the biggest new opportunity will be going forward into 2022.  We also are seeing a boom in patent litigation work, which had been on a downward spiral for many years.

We expect 2022 to be another record year for firm hiring, and we are excited to be on this ride with you! 



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