Where Are Legal Salaries Headed in 2018? What Legal Professionals and Hiring Managers Need to Know

The market for experienced legal talent continues to grow as law firms expand service offerings in lucrative practice areas and legal departments build internal teams to reduce costs and reliance on outside counsel. Not surprisingly, the resulting competition for skilled professionals is giving legal salaries a lift. Employers recognize that offering competitive legal salaries is a key strategy to both attract top-tier candidates and retain exceptional staff members. And legal professionals, whether currently employed or on the legal job search, also understand that monitoring salary trends can help guide their career decisions and success.

What factors are driving legal salaries? And what can we expect for legal salaries during the coming months?

Higher legal salaries, higher expectations

While support staff and attorney salaries are climbing, many legal employers also are raising the bar on expectations of staff members. Billable hour and business development thresholds are increasing. Paralegals and support staff with advanced technical skills and can perform multiple duties are being actively recruited – and compensation levels are growing to keep pace with demand.

Employers also factor other key elements into legal job salaries, such as candidates’ experience and skills and scope of duties and complexities involved in the position. In general, annual starting salaries will be higher for positions that are exceedingly strategic in nature, require specialized skills or certifications or fall within a highly competitive industry. For example, based on research we conducted for Robert Half Legal’s 2018 Salary Guide, a law firm attorney with 10-plus years’ experience may see an average starting salary at the midpoint of $124,500. Average starting salaries for other positions include:

  • In-house counsel (0-3 years’ exp.) – $90,000 (midpoint)
  • Law firm attorney (4-9 years’ exp.) – $101,250 (midpoint)
  • Paralegal manager – $85,000 (midpoint)
  • Senior paralegal/legal assistant (hybrid role) – $69,500 (midpoint)
  • Executive legal secretary (12+ years’ experience) – $66,000 (midpoint)

Demand specialized expertise driving legal salaries

Legal hiring activity remains strong, with particular focus on candidates with expertise in high-growth practice areas. Litigation, commercial law, real estate, labor/employment, and healthcare are expected to provide the most legal job opportunities during the coming months. And the increasing demand for legal professionals with backgrounds in these areas is elevating legal salaries – law firms and corporate departments are offering competitive pay and enhanced benefit packages as a key strategy to attract candidates and gain competitive hiring advantage.

Growing regulatory complexities and technical advancements are also boosting salaries as demand for specialized legal knowledge intensifies. A compliance director with 10-plus years’ experience, for example, may see an average starting salary at the midpoint of $118,000, depending on location, scope and complexity of the position. eDiscovery managers with 3-6 years’ experience can expect salaries at the midpoint of $87,000, according to our research.

Beyond Legal Salaries

While salary continues to rank among the top criteria legal professionals consider important in their jobs, many also place a premium on other factors. Recognizing that legal professionals count on more than competitive legal salaries to be motivated and satisfied with their work, employers are increasingly offering an expanded range of benefits and incentives to attract and retain top talent.

Profit-sharing, spot awards for individual or team achievements and stock options are among the most popular incentives being provided, while employee assistance, tuition reimbursement and retirement plans are enhancing standard benefits packages.

Employers are also paying attention to perks that affect the quality of life of legal professionals, with many offering flexible schedules, remote work options, expanded time-off policies, and childcare.

In today’s legal job market, one of the most effective ways to attract and retain top talent is to pay them well – at least as much or more than competitors are offering. And while competitive compensation is critical, strong benefits and incentive programs also play a key role in recruiting in-demand candidates and keeping current staff members satisfied.

If you’re an employer, keep an eye on legal salaries and hiring trends so you can adjust your strategies to remain competitive and successful this year. And if you’re seeking employment, it’s also a smart strategy that can help you make informed decisions to advance your legal career.

For more information on hiring and compensation trends, download the Robert Half Legal 2018 Salary Guide.

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