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LEGAL HIRING TRENDS

Technology-Related Legal Jobs Should Soar in Post-COVID Environment

By Steve Nelson

Technology-related legal jobs are poised to soar, but not just in the IT department. 

The past month has delivered some hopeful news to everyone suffering through one of the worst years in recent memory. One vaccine has been approved, another is on the brink, and several other vaccine manufacturers have announced positive testing results. There is hope that by mid-2021, the worst of the pandemic will be behind us.

That said, as indicated in my last article, law firm life will not go back to the way it was. Most observers predict that remote working will become much more prevalent, real estate footprints will be significantly altered, business travel will be reduced, and with it, marketing events will be less widespread.

(Related: “COVID-19 Will Bring Permanent Change to the Legal Recruiting Process”)

Those changes will inevitably produce significant alterations to legal management, affecting certain professional roles. We have already seen layoffs of professionals focused on facilities management, business travel, and events. For the most part, those roles in law firms will not be coming back, or at the very least will be integrated with other responsibilities. But in other areas, demand for professionals will grow rapidly. The key inevitably is technology, and not just limited to the law firm IT department.

Beyond IT: Where Legal Tech Jobs Are Set to Grow

Here are some areas that will be most active in terms of law firm hiring.

Finance-Related Legal Tech Jobs

During the summer, our company conducted a survey of law firm HR and talent leaders on various subjects relating to the pandemic. One of the questions was: What types of professionals are you anticipating your firm will be hiring in the next few months? The clear No. 1 answer was finance.

The need to upgrade firm financial capabilities was obvious well before the pandemic, and we saw it in a surge in our search work in that area. The general paradigm that law firms had been facing in recent years —  slow growth in demand for legal services, pushback on rate increases and increasing use of alternative fee arrangements — required a new level of financial monitoring. Moreover, increased client pressure on billing practices made it critical that firms handle billing and collection properly.

Firms were especially focused on those professionals who could marry technological expertise with a solid understanding of law firm economics. This particularly became acute for firms in the process of a major migration of powerful but complicated financial systems like Thomson Elite 3-E or Aderant. The professionals needed to manage those migrations had to have a solid understanding of both technology and finance; indeed, some firms decided to hire parallel professionals in both their IT and finance departments focused on these systems.

The adjustment to a remote working environment brought on by COVID-19 illustrated weaknesses in the financial reporting and interpretation process at some firms — particularly given that firm management was under the gun to get financial data to make immediate strategic plans. According to one COO, the difficulty of getting this data early in the pandemic made it apparent to many that they needed to upgrade their financial professional staff.

Legal Innovation Jobs

Recently our company produced a white paper on “Innovation and Value” that highlighted the rapid increase in hiring high-level professionals in charge of innovation. Innovation in law firms runs the gamut from legal process improvement, to using artificial intelligence for uniform document preparation, to using predictive analytics to determine cases’ potential outcomes. This is an area most observers believe will alter the practice of law sooner rather than later, as evidenced by both the explosion of law firm auxiliary ventures and the venture capital community’s keen interest in technology-driven legal enterprises. For example, Business Insider recently ran a feature about the wave of legal tech startups, summarizing 21 different startup companies’ products. So not only will law firms have jobs for tech-savvy professionals, but there now is a whole industry out there looking for top talent.

Once again, the best hires will be those who can understand both the legal needs of clients and the technological tools that can help solve client problems.

Marketing and Business Development Jobs (in Some Disciplines)

Marketing departments were among the hardest hit by furloughs and layoffs during the early days of the pandemic. That was partly because it was one of the easiest areas to cut costs, given the large departments at many firms and the fact that live conferences and events had come to a standstill. But more recently, we’re seeing a sharp increase in law firm hiring announcements. Marketing has always been an area with fairly high turnover, but firms also are repositioning their marketing and business development departments to adapt to the “next normal.”

In an era where virtual events such as webinars are largely going to replace live conferences and events, firms are focusing more on digital marketing and social media and need experienced professionals with that expertise.

Moreover, Dave Harvey, senior consultant with LawVision, says that firms are beefing up and establishing positions such as director of marketing technology. “These are sophisticated marketers who can interpret and distill data, and use that to steer content strategy and thought leadership efforts.”

The other area is the client-relations side of marketing and business development.  More firms realize that increasing business from existing clients is a more profitable strategy than attracting new ones, particularly given that lateral partner hiring can provide a steady stream of new clients. So, professionals who have the skills to ascertain client needs and potential risks to client relationships will become even more in demand.

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Steve Nelson

Steve Nelson is an executive principal at The McCormick Group, an executive search firm based in Arlington, Va. Steve conducts partner-level searches, searches for in-house counsel, and searches for administrative professionals for law firms. In addition, he serves as a consultant for law firm merger planning, practice area expansion, and in recruiting strategy. Steve is a former attorney with 17 years in legal journalism and publishing and is a Fellow of the College of Law Practice Management. Follow him @SKNLegal.

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