Number of U.S. legal jobs now exceeds pre-Great Recession record high

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  • The legal sector added 3,000 jobs in June, reaching 1,185,600 jobs, according to U.S. Labor Department
  • Law firm corporate practice hiring has slowed, but litigation, real estate are busy, recruiters said

(Reuters) – The U.S. legal services sector now has more total jobs than it had when the count hit its previous high point in 2007 shortly before the Great Recession, according to U.S. Labor Department data released Friday.

The legal sector added 3,000 jobs in June, reaching a total of 1,185,600, the preliminary seasonally adjusted Bureau of Labor Statistics data showed. This exceeds the historic high of 1,179,500 jobs the sector reached in May 2007, according to BLS data.

The legal services job count includes lawyers, paralegals and other legal professionals. BLS legal sector jobs data is available stretching back to 1990.

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Newly revised data for May 2022 also shows the sector cracked its previous 2007 record that month, with a total of 1,182,600 legal sector jobs.

The May 2022 data was revised up from 1,178,800. BLS jobs numbers are subject to adjustments in months after they are first released.

Overall U.S. job growth beat expectations in June, and the unemployment rate held steady at 3.6%.

Legal recruitment leaders said demand for lawyers remains high in certain practice areas. However, the practice groups for which firms are hiring have shifted, they said.

In 2021, law firms battled for talent amid a surge in client demand and shortage of lawyers to handle the work.

There has been a slowdown in law firm hiring for capital markets and mergers and acquisitions attorneys, said Katherine Loanzon, a managing director at legal recruitment agency Kinney Recruiting.

Global M&A activity dipped 21% in the first half of 2022 over the same period in 2021, according to data from Refinitiv.

Fears of a coming recession and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine may have helped fuel the first-half slowdown.

While corporate hiring has eased, litigation and real estate are among the practice areas keeping firms busy, according to Loanzon and John Cashman, president of legal recruiting firm Major, Lindsey & Africa.

While fears of an economic downturn are looming, the legal recruitment leaders said law firms are likely to be hesitant about doing mass layoffs as some did during the Great Recession and may opt instead for measures such as cutting pay.

Some large law firms laid off hundreds of employees during the Great Recession.

“I think that the last round of layoffs probably reminded them that it’s really hard to bounce back,” Cashman said. “If the work picks up, it’s really hard to get those associates back quickly and up to speed.”

Cashman said he thinks that while legal jobs growth will slow, he doesn’t “see the sky falling anytime soon.”

Read more:

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Latest U.S. jobs report shows more legal sector growth in May

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