U.S. Legal Sector Adds More Jobs After Topping Pre-pandemic Peak

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The legal sector added 1,800 jobs in January, according to the U.S. Labor Department’s latest jobs report, slightly trailing the rate of overall U.S. employment growth but continuing a trend of steady gains since the spring of 2020.

Seasonally adjusted employment data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics showed a preliminary 1,176,600 legal services sector jobs in January, up 3.5% year over year.

The number has kept climbing since October, when legal employment first surpassed its historical peak of 1,165,300 jobs in February 2020, before the pandemic hit.

The broader U.S. labor market added 467,000 jobs last month, reaching 149,629,000, a year-over-year growth rate of 4.6%.

The legal sector’s job count includes lawyers, paralegals, and other legal professionals, many of whom are now in high demand as law firms – especially large firms – strain to keep up with work from corporate clients.

“The demand for high-end legal services has never been higher. The shortage of associates, in particular, has never been tighter,” John Cashman, president of legal recruiting firm Major, Lindsey & Africa, said of the factors contributing to rising legal employment.

Cashman said he expects demand for lawyers over the next six months will be “every bit as strong” as it’s been for the last year and a half.

“I see no reason that’ll slow down when it comes to demand for services, and the supply of lawyers is pretty fixed in the short run,” he said.

Last year, client demand for legal services grew by 6.5% on average among 130 large and regional law firms surveyed by the Wells Fargo Private Bank’s Legal Specialty Group. That helped ensure a lucrative year for most surveyed firms, with the average firm reporting a 14% increase in revenue growth last year, Wells Fargo said.