Legal Career Resources

Predictions for the 2021 Legal Market: What Will Be the New Normal?
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In Part 1 of this series, we looked at some of the general trends observed in the legal market in 2020. In Part 2, we look at some of the important trends from the BCG Attorney Search Report that are expected to become the new normal in the legal industry. Here’s a look at what the legal market might look like in the near future.

Opportunities at Consumer-Facing Law Firms

Prior to 2020, consumer-facing law firms in practice areas such as personal injury, family law, trust and estates, and even immigration law rarely used legal recruiters for their hiring needs. However, this trend changed remarkably in 2020. These law firms demanded legal recruiter services at an unprecedented rate. Trends observed in specific practice areas:

Trust & Estates

The demand for attorneys in this practice area increased as the activity in this practice increased. Partly, it may be due to pandemic-related reasons, where people tried to get their estates in order due to the fear of dying from the virus.


Personal Injury

This practice area also witnessed significant growth and activity. With the practice becoming busy, hiring in this area increased.

Family Law

As per the report, almost every family law attorney out there was marketable if they were an associate. Demand for attorneys in this area increased across markets and candidates got multiple interviews.

Immigration Law

Even though immigration-related activities became limited due to government policies and pandemic-related restrictions, this area witnessed growth, and hiring continued.

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Takeaways for 2021

  • Law firms should continue hiring for these practice areas, including hiring opportunistically. Large law firms that do not practice in these areas should consider adding them to their portfolio.
  • Attorneys will have increased opportunities in these practice areas. They should consider moving markets or even firms for better salaries.

Virtual Interviews

Law firms have been hesitant in the past to hire attorneys virtually. This changed in 2020 and most of the hiring was done was videoconference interviews.

Takeaways for 2021

  • Law firms should continue hiring through virtual interviews but simultaneously develop other virtual methods to test the candidate’s personality.
  • Attorneys should apply to jobs in as many markets as possible. Remote interviews are being widely accepted now and travel is not required. Candidates should also work on their interviewing skills.

Lateral Hires From the Existing Markets

Before 2020, law firms preferred to hire candidates already located in their market or those who were moving home. This ensured lesser chances of the candidate leaving due to geographical reasons and increased stability. It also reduces logistics and other costs related to bringing the candidate from another state. In 2020, this trend was overturned and law firms hired candidates with no connection to their market. Out of state candidates were hired more than ever before.

Takeaways for 2021

  • To get the best talent, law firms should be open to hiring candidates from other geographic areas.
  • Attorneys should apply to jobs in other geographic areas as well and increase their chances of getting hired.

Opportunistic Hiring

During a recession, law firms confine their hiring to open vacancies and stop opportunistic hiring. In 2020, this trend didn’t seem to take hold. More than 50% of hiring and interviews were opportunistic. Smaller firms took the lead in opportunistic hiring and hired attorneys moving home to smaller markets from larger markets. Another surprising trend was hiring attorneys that had never worked as attorneys.

Takeaways for 2021

  • Law firms should consider opportunistic hiring to make more money and reduce attrition from overworked employees.
  • Attorneys should apply to firms they want to even if they don’t have a current opening. Small and mid-sized firms are open to opportunistic hiring.

Presence in the Office

Traditionally law firms have always wanted their attorneys to be physically present in the office and the huge spendings on fancy law firm offices prove the same. In 2020, this changed. Initially, the change was forced due to the lockdown restrictions. However, law firms seem to have accepted the new normal for good and the concept of face time in office is becoming less important.

Takeaways for 2021

  • Law firms should allow attorneys to continue working remotely. However, to adjust to the new normal, new management methods to supervise the remote work should be put in place. High productivity and discipline should not be compromised.
  • Attorneys need to figure out some methods to stay connected to their colleagues and client and be more visible.

Cutting Down on Lateral Hiring

Large law firms dramatically cut down on their hiring in 2020. Markets in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and other major cities were hit the worst after the virus hit. This slowdown was significantly more than what was witnessed during other recessions.

Takeaways for 2021

  • Large law firms should be careful about cutting down hiring for certain practice areas that are expected to become normal again in the future. For smaller law firms, this could be an excellent opportunity to get lateral talent as candidates have limited large law firm options.
  • Attorneys seeking a job at large law firms should apply to large law firm branches in smaller markets.

Reconsidering Law Firm Staff Hiring

Administrative and support staff account for huge fixed costs at law firms. In 2020, even the most prestigious law firms laid off staff as attorneys were working from home and didn’t require such services. However, as a result, attorneys performed more administrative work than they usually do.

Takeaways for 2021

  • Law firms should consider hiring virtual staff from smaller markets as they are less expensive and do not have as many opportunities.
  • Attorneys should learn to reduce the extent of their dependence on administrative staff and use personal productivity tools.

Forgivable Loans and Law Firms

Prior to 2020, law firms were not the usual receivers of loans during recessions and mostly relied on credit lines backed by partner guarantees. In 2020, law firms, including some known names in the legal market, were one of the largest receivers of PPP loans.

Takeaways for 2021

  • Law firms should try to get more forgivable loans in 2020. This will help them stay afloat and cover basic expenses.
  • Attorneys should understand and respect their firm’s financial condition the best they can.

Not All Business Sectors Slowed Down

During past recessions, stock markets took a hit, most businesses slowed down and consumers stopped spending. Surprisingly, 2020 was different and many sectors did well including the stock market. For the legal industry, this implied a vibrant market in a different industry.

Takeaways for 2021

  • Law firms should venture into markets that have emerged profitable during the pandemic and hire attorneys will experience in these areas.
  • Attorneys should consider working at law firms that are doing well in the current legal market.

Reduction in Fixed Costs

In 2020, law firms made unprecedented reductions in their fixed costs. This included reduced spending on law firm staff, offices, travel, parking, retreats, parties, and summer programs.

Takeaways for 2021

  • Reduction in fixed costs will help law firms to get a competitive advantage as they will be able to pay more to their partners and associates.
  • Attorneys should expect lesser benefits from their law firms and they should also cooperate with the law firms in this regard.

Remote Working is the New Normal

In 2020, attorneys got a chance to work from the most unusual places. They were free to work from wherever they wanted, be it a park or on a boat, and moved around the country and the world while continuing their work. The trend is here to stay as many have expressed that this made them happier.

Takeaways for 2021

  • Better remote working systems should be developed by law firms. If law firms intend to make this a permanent arrangement for their attorneys, they should market this incentive while hiring.
  • Attorneys should develop skills that will make them indispensable even in a remote setup. However, the long-term consequences of remote working might not be positive as it might impact career progression.

Demand for Senior Litigators and Trial Attorneys

The demand for senior litigators and trial attorneys increased significantly during 2020. When trials went online, the demand for senior lawyers specializing in trials increased and law firms became eager to hire them.

Takeaways for 2021

  • Law firms should continue to add to their pool of trial litigators.
  • Attorneys with trial experience should make use of the opportunity even if they believe they are not marketable.

Responding Social and Political Movements

In 2020, the social and political riots, movements, and activities impacted the hiring culture at law firms. Law firms actively began to recruit people from diverse backgrounds. Leadership roles were given to people from ethnic minorities.

Takeaways for 2021

  • Law firms should always try to maintain politically neutral behavior. The recent involvement of some BigLaw partners in the Trump Georgia calls brought criticism to those law firms and eventually, those partners resigned.
  • Attorneys should try to not have social and political interests that might offend their colleagues or potential clients.

Opportunities in the Small Law Firm Market

In 2020, the hiring needs of small and mid-sized law firms increased more than ever. The increase was so significant that these firms had trouble finding attorneys.

Takeaways for 2020

  • Law firms should aggressively recruit lateral attorneys and promote open positions more widely.
  • Attorneys should recognize the opportunity that small law firms will now present and apply to them even if they do not have openings.

More Interviews for a Single Position

Due to the ease of conducting virtual interviews, law firms interviewed more people than they previously did. This meant that candidates had to face increased competition.

Takeaways for 2021

  • Law firms should continue to interview more people to ensure that they are hiring the best match.
  • Attorneys should prepare better as the law firms are interviewing more candidates now. They should also apply to more places as the chances of getting an interview are more.

An analysis of the above trends and their anticipated impact on the future makes it clear that the legal market has openly adapted itself to the new normal. Law firms have become flexible, hiring methods have changed and new opportunities are arising. We hope that this insightful analysis will provide some help to you in making your next career move.



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