Recruiters say the demand for contract attorneys in corporate and government legal departments and law firms is rising as the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic creates more of certain types of legal work.
Matthew Weaver, executive director of interim legal talent at consulting and recruiting firm Major, Lindsey & Africa, who is based in New York City, said, “We are definitely seeing an uptick in interim legal talent.”
Industries and practice areas with a strong need for contract attorneys and paralegals right now include health care and hospital networks, financial services, insurance, purchasing of technology services, and food suppliers.
Privacy and data security contract lawyers also are in high demand, he said.
“Tech companies are finding themselves inundated with new users, and privacy has become a huge thing with people working from home and outside the firewalls of our companies,” Weaver said.
Practices such as bankruptcy and restructuring and insurance litigation also are anticipated, he said.
Hiring is going on virtually using Skype, Zoom and Microsoft Teams even as corporate law departments and many law offices remain shuttered due to shelter-in-place orders in some cities, the recruiters said.
Some employers are on-boarding the contract attorneys for remote work with plans to bring them into offices later when shelter-in-place orders are loosened or lifted, they said.
“There are no obstacles to on-boarding right now,” Weaver said, including for employment eligibility verification. “In the latter part of March, the Department of Homeland Security relaxed requirements for contract and permanent employees, not requiring in-person verification of I-9s through May 19. They are interviewing on video right now, as quickly as possible.”
Currently much of the hiring is for corporate legal departments straining under demands for expertise in particular niches, or from reduced productivity due to COVID-19-related issues, but increased demand from law firms is anticipated for later this year, the recruiters said. Weaver said law firms have more flexibility to meet demand surges with their own associates, whereas corporate law departments have to use contract lawyers to quickly staff up.
While not providing any overall hiring figures, Weaver said at Major Lindsey clients at corporations and law firms are getting requests for one or two contract lawyers per organization, and as many as 10-30 junior lawyers and paralegals on loan processing and documentation assignments at financial services employers, for Small Business Administration and stimulus programs.
Jamy Sullivan, executive director of San Ramon, California-based Robert Half Legal, whose office is in Dallas, said her firm also is seeing increased demand now for interim talent in financial services companies including banking and mortgage refinancing, Small Business Administration and other federal government stimulus; manufacturing and supply chain and health care. Much of the work is contract review and review of new regulations, and reviewing insurance policies in anticipation of claims, she said.
“Contracts review and contract obligations, compliance and risk are the areas that will continue to tick up in the coming months,” she said.
Sullivan said she also expects to see increased demand for litigation and bankruptcy help as courts reopen or go virtual, in both law departments and law firms, probably in 30 to 90 days. Weaver agreed. She said health care, insurance and commercial matters also are expected to increase hiring or corporate law departments and law firms.
Most positions require more than three years or five years of experience for substantive roles and niche practices; and for financial services and banking and mortgages, they will take junior experience and paralegals. Most are open-ended contracts.Weaver said his clients mainly call for lawyers with one to five years of experience, and two to 10 years for paralegals. Compensation ranges from $50-$150 per hour for privacy, health care and tech niche corporate transactional attorneys and $20-$40 per hour for the higher-volume loan processing work and paralegals, he said.