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New salary survey mostly good news

Gary GosselinAfter several years of bad news for the legal profession, this year, things may be looking up, in large part because of the economy.

You may say it’s the economy stupid, but part of the problem also has been a change in the way legal services are delivered, billed and distributed.

The mostly good news comes from the Robert Half Legal 2014 Salary Guide, an annual survey that’s even used by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics for its “Occupational Outlook Handbook.”

The report said the hiring has strengthened as law firms and corporate legal departments bring on professionals to support renewed business activity and meet increased demand for legal services.

But, budgets remain conservative, and employers want experienced candidates who can have immediate impact.

The hot areas of law, according to the report, are health care, litigation, and general business and commercial and privacy, data security and information law. And corporate legal departments are out there actively recruiting and expanding their internal teams, something new this year.

Health care, which 30 percent thought would be fastest growing in the next two years, was cites for growing complexities associated with the implementation of recent reform and regulations.

General business/corporate law which got a 14 percent, was noted for regulatory compliance activities and business growth. “Experienced full-time and project-based personnel are sought to provide guidance and support for commercial transactions, corporate securities, contract administration, regulatory compliance and other legal affairs in corporate environments.”

Litigation was cited by 13 percent as a high-growth area because corporate and commercial litigation remain active practice areas. “An increase in insurance defense, antitrust lawsuits, labor and employment matters, and class actions” is the motivator

Privacy, data security and information law got 12 percent of the votes with main work in areas of developing privacy policies, complying with recent regulations and assessing business risks and legal issues.

Mid-level associates with three- to five-plus years of experience in high-demand specialties also are marketable. The same can’t be said of first-year and summer associates, an area where hiring is expected to remain “conservative,” meaning bad.

Salary increases are a good/not-so-good story. It’s good if you’re a lawyer with four to 10 years’ experience: you saw salary increases of 3.7 percent from 2013 to 2014. Not-so-good are those in the first-year and one- to three-year brackets with raises of only 2.5 percent or less.

I won’t even go into the salary range the survey lists for different areas and types of firms, because they are usually so skewed that when I publish them I get funny looks for a week.

As for the national averages, the coasts are clearly the place to be.  San Francisco comes in at 135.5, Boston comes in at 133.5 and New York City comes in at 141.0.

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