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Law salary survey is good news, bad news

moneyHow you view the Robert Half Legal 2014 Salary Guide could reveal a lot about you.

If you focus on its report that hiring has strengthened, that signing bonuses are becoming more common and that salaries are expected to increase, you are a glass half-full person.

If you focus on its report that hiring is up, but for senior level lawyers with portable books of business and fifth-year associates, that salaries are expected to increase across the profession by less than 3 percent and that some of the hiring that has increased is for project lawyers, you might be a half-empty glass type.

Jessica Kuhl, division director of Robert Half Legal in Minnesota, is a glass half-full, or even more, person.

“Our outlook is extremely optimistic,” she said in an interview. “Now there are many paths for attorneys to go down. That is different from where we were five years ago.”

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Some of the areas in demand may be different than they have been. On a national level, according the report, the most in-demand areas of practice are: healthcare; general business/corporate law; litigation; privacy, data security and information law; and intellectual property.

The report states, “Prospects are particularly bright for lawyers and paralegals with in-depth knowledge of the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries.”

For intellectual property lawyers, the report says that innovation is a priority in virtually every industry, and so there is a need for lawyers and legal support professionals in patent, copyright and trademark law.

Lawyers who haven’t been able to garner in-depth knowledge of biotechnology or develop a good-sized transferable book aren’t in such good shape, and neither are students. “The hiring environment for first-year and summer associates is expected to remain conservative,” the salary guide says.

Moreover, there’s no good news for attorneys in the “doughnut hole,” who graduated during the recession, particularly in 2008-09. They couldn’t get hired then because firms were in distress and they can’t get hired now because they aren’t new graduates.

In many instances, when firms were ready to hire again in about 2012, they went to the class of 2012, leaving the students from the two earlier classes stranded like wallflowers. Those young attorneys ended up working anywhere, and then got the feedback that they had no law firm experience, said Jodi Standke, CEO of Talon Performance Group.

Kuhl does not know what to say to that group of lawyers.

“I wish I had a good answer,” she said. “At least we continue to talk about it.”

And they continue to see new and different job titles, Kuhl added. She advised students and lawyers to “be flexible and work hard.”

Standke agreed. The future looks good for legal careers, but it will look different, she said. A lot of lawyers have been forced to look at other career paths, either in business or with nonprofits, she said.

The glass half-full point of view is “there’s heightened awareness of what a job fit is, what an integrated life is.”

We’re being proactive about who we are,” she said, “and who bonds well.”

If a lawyer has her heart set on getting into a big firm, she might have more of a challenge, Standke said.

Lawyer salaries – a national look

The following figures are national averages according to Robert Half Legal’s 2014 Salary Guide. The figures are averages across the country, factoring in salaries from Manhattan to the Midwest. They do not include bonuses.

Compared to 2013, salaries increased, on average, from 2 percent for first-year associates at small firms to 4.8 percent for lawyers at mid-size firms with four to nine years of experience.

For this report, firm sizes were defined as follows: Large, 75-plus; Midsize, 35 to 75; Small/Mid, 10 to 35; Small, up to 10 lawyers.

Experience: 10-plus years
Firm size: Large
2014 pay: $174,500-$264,250
% increase from 2013: 3.5

Firm size: Midsize
2014 pay: $147,250-246,750
% increase from 2013: 4.4

Firm size: Small/Mid
2014 pay: $124,750-179,000
% increase from 2013: 4.5

Firm size: Small
2014 pay: $96,250-161,500
% increase from 2013: 2.7
Experience: 4 to 9 years

Firm size: Large
2014 pay: $150,750-213,250
% increase from 2013: 3.9

Firm size: Midsize
2014 pay: $124,750-187,500
% increase from 2013: 4.8

Firm Size: Small/Mid
2014 pay: 91,500-162,500
% increase from 2013: 3.7

Firm Size: Small
2014 pay: $71,750-132,000
% increase: 3
Experience: 1 to 3 years

Firm size: Large
2014 pay: $116,500-$152,000
% increase: 2.2

Firm size: Midsize
2014 pay: $86,000-123,250
% increase: 3.5

Firm size: Small/Mid
2014 pay: $66,500-103,500
% increase: 2.6

Firm size: Small
2014 pay: $56,500-90,250
% increase: 2.1
Experience: First-year

Firm size: Large
2014 pay: $110,750-$136,500
% increase from 2013: 1.6

Firm size: Midsize
2014 pay: $78,250-106,750
% increase from 2013: 2.5

Firm size: Small/Mid
2014 pay: $1,000-86,250
% increase from 2013: 3

Firm size: Small
2014 pay: $53,750-75,250
% increase: 2

Source: Robert Half Legal’s 2014 Salary Guide

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