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State of the Market - Fall 2023

State of the Market - Fall 2023

November 8, 2023

The Kerwin Team has been meeting with legal and compliance leaders and one-off talent about the market, their careers, and our search work. We have continued to drive search work globally in a resource-limited and somewhat "stalled" market. The good news is that companies are continuing to hire and innovation continues in the tech sector. Our overall sense is that there is a bit of an “uptick” but we may not see real traction on legal hiring until the first quarter of 2024. Here are a few top-of-mind insights on the current state of the market.

Candidates finding a soft landing

It has been a challenging time for the thousands of individuals who have been laid off. For the most part, lawyers who have been let go from tech companies have transitioned to new roles while others continue to look for the right opportunity. For the more seasoned individuals, it can be more difficult because there are fewer leadership openings. In a down market, leaders and candidates at larger, more established companies tend to hold on to their current roles creating fewer openings for senior talent. In certain practice areas where legal teams can leverage outside counsel i.e., privacy, litigation, IP, etc. there is less need to hire. Candidates are turning to contract work as an alternative until the hiring market gets its stride.

Doing more with less

We are all doing more with less. Limited budgets and headcount are taxing current lawyers to do more with less support. Many of our clients could use additional help but do not have the budget to add headcount. Many are turning to contractors and/or outside counsel. This has resulted in many attorneys taking on different areas of the law and working extra hours. This is leading to additional burnout in the post-covid era. A study of U.S. in-house counsel released one year ago said that 47% of respondents were very stressed or burned out. The sequel to that survey, released by on-demand legal services provider Axiom and Wakefield Research found that the percentage had shot up to 61% this year.

Lack of urgency to hire

Some companies that have headcount to hire, lack the urgency to do so. In 2021 and 2022, clients could not hire fast enough and were grabbing candidates to keep up with the demands of the business – what a difference! A lot of hiring managers feel that they should wait for the perfect person because of the candidate-heavy market. This lack of urgency has made recruiting processes longer and affected candidate experience negatively. The danger of hiring slowly can lead to stale job postings, the loss of top talent, in addition to damaging a company's reputation.

Compensation is being squeezed

Compensation in the legal and compliance market has leveled off and, in some instances, gone back to a pre-pandemic boost. Companies are trying to close roles at below-market compensation. The influx of candidates in the market, paired with the squeeze of corporate pocketbooks, makes clients feel they can find great talent for less. Candidates aren’t necessarily being more flexible. However, those candidates who are being more flexible around compensation are finding new roles quicker than those who are holding out to match previous numbers.

Emphasis on returning to the office

Lawyers are being asked to return to office in a hybrid model. Some companies are taking a hardline approach asking employees to come back to the office or find another role, other companies admittingly are struggling to get employees back. Many business leaders believe that in-person work boosts productivity in some roles and it also gives executives and managers opportunities to check in and assess what workers are doing. Companies who post “remote” roles on LinkedIn may see ten times the response to a role that is “in office.” Roles that require in-office are harder to fill and take longer to close. The candidate pool remains mixed on in-office requirements. Those with young children, long commutes, and long days do not want the added burden of being forced into an office. Half of the candidates we speak with see the positive social capital of being in an office while the other half do not understand why they must be in an office given the nature of what they do. It is a complicated situation that has never been navigated in the history of our nation.

Should you have any questions or if you would like to connect about the legal marketplace, do not hesitate to reach out.  

We are thankful for your relationship with Kerwin and hope we can work together again in 2024.

Best regards,

The Kerwin Team

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