The legal industry is still facing modest growth in an uncertain economy, but business is booming for legal professionals with the right skill sets. Attorneys who are business minded, well socialized, and technologically skilled are in high demand, while support staff capable of taking advantage of technology to handle a wide range of tasks are highly sought after, according to the Robert Half Legal’s 2018 Salary Guide.
Among the key trends in this year’s report was the “rising demand for tech-savvy support staff.” The Salary Guide, released by the staffing firm every year since 1950, predicts salary and employment trends based on the company’s internal job-placement data.
According to Robert Half:
To meet client requests for cost-effective services, law firms are hiring paralegals who can perform multiple duties and deliver quality work at lower billing rates than those of attorneys. Legal secretaries are also able to take on a broader range of duties as law firms restructure support teams for greater efficiencies and technology allows attorneys to handle tasks that were once delegated.
For eDiscovery professionals specifically, the report identified “Litigation support/eDiscovery manager” as one of ten “hot positions” for the upcoming year.
That “hot position” could be one that pays quite well, too. eDiscovery managers with high levels of expertise and experience, who are able to handle work that is complex and strategic in nature—that is, those professionals whom Robert Half classifies as in the top 95th percentile—could end up making $209,750 in 2018, according to the report.
That’s a massive increase (a 48 percent bump) from the top litigation support salary of $141,500 in Robert Half Legal’s 2017 report, itself up 8.9 percent from the year before. However, the company also revised its salary data reporting this year, introducing a percentile-based table and moving away from the firm size categorizations of earlier years, which could partially explain the wider range. Even so, an eDiscovery vet with 10 years or more of experience landing in the top 75th percentile, can expect a salary of $151,500 in 2018, per Robert Half's numbers, a salary that's $10,000 and 7 percent higher than last year's top salary.
A Good Year Ahead for Techie Attorneys, Too
It’s not just technologically sophisticated support staff that are in demand, either. Lawyers who know how to leverage technology are also highly sought after.
For attorneys, “business acumen, tech skills and interpersonal abilities are highly desirable,” according to the salary report. Highly desirable and difficult to find, that is. Sixty-seven percent of surveyed lawyers at large law firms said it was challenging to find sufficiently skilled legal professionals.
For attorneys with a high level of expertise, who can handle complex and strategic tasks, the payout can be significant. Lawyers in the the 95th percentile substantially outearn those in the bottom 25 percentile. First year associates, for example, can expect to earn $54,500 at the lowest end of the scale, $68,000 for the 50th percentile, $84,250 at the 75th percentile, and $121,000 at the top. For those with significant experience (10-plus years) those numbers range from $101,750 to $218,000.
The report also notes that litigation continues to lead legal job growth, making litigation-related skills even more desirable. Twenty-eight percent of respondents predicted that litigation would offer the greatest number of job opportunities over the next two years, followed by business law (22 percent) and real estate (10 percent).
Better Lawyering Through Technology
For those looking to take advantage of the growing demand for technologically proficient legal professionals, opportunities abound.
In 2015, the heads of TRU Staffing Partners and TRU Cyber joined Logikcull to explain how legal technology professionals can take advantage new career paths in eDiscovery and cybersecurity. Highlights of that presentation included the benefits of various certifications, the overlap between eDiscovery and cybersecurity skills, and the continued growth in legal analytics. It’s a great primer for anyone interested in this area of the legal industry and the presentation materials can be reviewed here.
Of course, tech savvy isn’t just valuable when looking to get hired. Tech skills are desirable, after all, because they help law firms lower costs, please clients, and bring in more hours, a benefit for anyone looking to grow their practice as well as their career.
Modern technology, and cloud-based technology in particular, can automate time-intensive work processes, freeing up time that can then be spent on more productive activities. Take, for example, the most recent Legal Trends Report. Published by the practice management software company Clio and based on data from their more than 60,000 users, the report shows that attorneys spend 48 percent of their non-billable time on administrative tasks.
But a fair amount of that nonbillable time can be blamed on inefficient, time-intensive processes—processes that can often be improved through technology, whether it’s using software to manage client billing or cloud-based eDiscovery automation to replace slow, manual document review processes. Those technological improvements can in turn become a firm’s selling point, as lawyers are able to handle matters with greater speed and efficiency. And because these new technologies are available on the cloud, attorneys can benefit from them quickly and painlessly, without having to invest in expensive, on-site hardware.
Technology can also help practitioners bring in house tasks that used to be sent out to third-party vendors. In the eDiscovery sphere, for example, cloud-based technology allows lawyers to automate many of the tasks that were once performed by outside vendors. That means lawyers no longer need to wait a day or two for a vendor to process and “ingest” data before it can be reviewed, or another two days to run a production, all the while racking up exorbitant bills that are passed through to the client.
Today, technology automates thousands of the steps that attorneys once called on third parties to perform. Simple to use, intuitive programs now mean that you don’t need to be a technologist to take advantage of technology. Legal professionals can now bring those tasks in house, instead of vending them out, promising faster time to review, lower costs for clients, and more hours billed directly by the firm. It’s what we refer to as “Discovery 3.0,” and it’s turning what is often a burdensome, expensive process into an opportunity.
In a market where clients are demanding ever greater efficiency from their attorneys, where law firms are looking for new ways to manage expenses, and where legal professionals are seeking new ways to stand out from the crowd, technological skills could be the key to success.