Category: Blog Posts

Local Job Market Offers Hope

Employment is available for new lawyers and seasoned professionals thanks to an upward swing in the local legal field. According to Lynne Berkowitz, a partner with Berkowitz & Associates located in Shadyside, as long as a new lawyer is willing to learn and work hard, jobs will come her or his way. “Firms are continuing to use their own resources to recruit new associates like through a summer internship,” she said. “There is also a trend to hire more laterals and people with more experience.”

“There’s a need for people to walk right in and do the job and spend less time training,” continued Berkowitz who has been a partner with her firm for 13 years. Karl Schieneman, director of The Legal Network, agrees with Berkowitz’s assessment. “The use of contract attorneys for law firms is a way to bring in an experienced attorney to match a project,” he continued. “It eliminates the overhead of trying to find work for people. Also, when the staff is at an all-time low, firms can bring in people on a contract basis. It’s a substantial trend we’re seeing in Pittsburgh.”
According to an article that appeared in the April edition of the National Law Journal, many employers routinely farm out systematic tasks such as document review to armies of temps. Today, lawyer temping may be the hottest segment of the staffing industry. Analysts peg the market at $300 million to $500 million a year, with an annual growth rate of 25%-40%.

“The use of temporary employment is a strong trend. It’s the fastest growing (trend) at 35%-40% a year,” explained Schieneman who, in addition to being director of The Legal Network, has also been a practicing contract attorney in Pittsburgh since 1995. At small firms, the trend is more dramatic, especially when the market for new lawyers is soft, and where the small firms pay new hires by the hour. This employment practice lets them try out lawyers and to adjust their labor costs and their needs. The temp attorney trend is partly reflected in the National Law Journal’s 1998 survey of the nation’s 250 biggest firms. Eleven respondents listed 5% of their attorneys as temps. At three firms, they exceeded 10% of the total.

“Things go in cycles,” explained Berkowitz. “The better the economy, the better the chance to find a job. We tell kids to focus on what they love. “While the hiring of contract law is on the uprise, areas such as litigation, corporate law, securities, labor, environmental law, intellectual property, and employment law are the hottest areas for lawyers in all stages of practice to find employment. “I think the Pittsburgh legal market has picked up in the last 18 months. In the past two years, hiring has picked up,” said Nora Barry Fischer, an administrative partner at Pietragallo, Bosick and Gordon, a law firm located in downtown Pittsburgh.

“It was difficult for people to find jobs but now the job market has become bigger and better. Local law firms are expanding and younger people have an advantage because younger attorneys are more in tune to computerized research,” she continued.

Fischer believes another reason jobs are proving to be more plentiful for young people is because they are learning to do more with their law degree.

“People have discovered that with a law degree you can do other things,” she revealed. “People are leaving law firms and starting their own businesses. When we hire, we like people to know something about litigation because they will spend a lot of time [litigating] and doing research.”

According to John T. Rago, Associate Dean of Duquesne’s Law School, in the late Œ80s and early Œ90s, hiring practices had come close to an all-time low. Summer associate classes, which once held 25 aspiring lawyers, dropped drastically to ten students per class. Despite the statistics, Rago believes that hiring is on the upward spiral.
“Between 1993, 1994 and now, a number of firms said they had an upward swing in hiring in environmental, litigation, and labor,” he explained. “A lot of people don’t hire people directly out of law school; some hire the best and brightest students. Starting salaries run the gamut and lateral employment is on the increase.”

Rago also said that Allegheny County is unique because 25 or 30 decent-sized law firms have four or five full-time lawyers or fewer. Allegheny County is second for lawyers per capita only to Washington D.C.

“More and more students are able to migrate to other parts of the county 38% of the entering class is from out of the state,” continued Rago. “We encourage students that law schools don’t want to train people in one genre.”
Rago also went on to say that a lot of lateral hiring is occurring because firms don’t want to train new lawyers directly out of law school.

“Hiring laterals brings in business and that’s something that lawyers with three to five years experience can do,” he insisted.

“A person fresh out of law school can not do that, but they are energetic and ready to do the work. I’m optimistic that law will continue to be strong and there will be entry-level jobs for people to get into. Some firms are top heavy with partners and some are not,” Rago continued. “You have to make the decision based on the individual firm. I think everything in this business is in cycles and when they are too lean, don’t be too sad and when times are happy don’t be too happy. We have to prepare our students for that.”

Schieneman believes that the trend of hiring contract attorneys will continue to flourish and temping will be one of types of employment that new lawyers may choose.

“The use of temporary employment is a strong trend. It’s a way to bring in an experienced attorney to do one project as opposed to several lawyers doing it,” explained Schieneman. “The Pittsburgh marketplace is stable to declining and law is a service industry and contract work allows them to better control their costs.”
Mark Nowalk, a partner at Thorpe, Reed and Armstrong and head of the firm’s recruiting committee, revealed that his firm has hired laterals in every department.

“We look to fill any needs that we have in specialty areas. We hire both laterally and through our summer program. Salaries have risen for people out of law school and that makes it competitive.”
The competitive salaries combined with various levels of experience have given new hires the edge needed to further their careers.

Mary Austin, a member of Eckert, Seamans, and Mellot, has noticed a lot of trends in her nine years with the firm.
“People seem to be carrying different titles for whatever reason. You see more contract and part-time lawyers and that includes men and women,” she said. “Most of the larger firms are hiring people out of law school and summer programs.”

According to a Wall Street Journal article published May 19, 1997, clients don’t want associates reviewing documents with the meter going at $150 an hour. When a temp can do it for less than a third of that amount, the firm has revenue of about $3 million in its first year.

The article also said that law school graduation rates have stayed high, while the growth of law partnerships has slowed in the 1990s. Combine that with the exodus from big firms of people fed up with the profit-maximizing grind, you end up with a lot of incredibly talented people on the temp market.

In addition to seeing employees carrying several titles, Austin has also noticed a lot of employee movement. “Each year you have attorneys moving to different firms and now you have people who have worked at different firms. Employers are looking for excellence and hard workers,” Austin predicted. “There seems to be an amount of willingness and some firms are more flexible than they used to be. If someone has the skills, then [the firm is] more flexible.”

“There’s a lot more movement on all levels and I think it’s based on economy. When demand is greater than supply, then the market is favorable and the firms can be more demanding and rigid over what they want, ” she continued. “Firms are also trying to be more diverse. I think that new graduates are finding jobs in both smaller firms and larger firms depending on what the firm needs.”

Berkowitz disagrees. She feels that over saturation of the market combined with contract hiring makes finding a job a hard task. “It’s harder now,” she insisted. “You have to have done better in law school and undergrad. There has been an excess number of attorneys turned out than there are positions to fill,” she said. Although he strongly condones contract lawyers, Schieneman is quick to say that people are still making partner in firms, no matter how hard the road is to that goal. “If the market isn’t growing and people are making partners already, you are dividing a shrinking pie. People know that they can do other things and still practice law,” he said. There are people still making partner, but you have to be good at drawing business and not just at law.

“I hope that the new generation of lawyers will become successful,” continued Schieneman. “I think people should understand that it’s not easy to make partner and if you enjoy practicing law, then partnering doesn’t have to be a goal.” Although partnering may not be a goal of all students coming out of law school, many do hope to be given a full-time job in a respected firm. They also hope to be able to advance in the firm and strengthen their career by working hard and remaining dedicated to the firm. Fischer feels that even though finding full-time employment at a firm may be a dream of new lawyers, she warned that part-time employment may be an option. “Part-time employment is another trend,” she said. “We see the benefit of it in our firm. There are people in our firm who have gone part-time. We get [the benefit] of people’s expertise and training, and we see it as a win-win situation.”
Michael Lynch, a partner at Kirkpatrick & Lockhart, agrees with Fischer but cites that Pittsburgh was not always the hottest city in which to find legal jobs.

“When I first got out of law school, most people looked at finding jobs in New York, Washington D.C. and Los Angeles. In the late Œ80s people became more interested in cities like Pittsburgh because of families,” shared Lynch who is also chairman of the firm’s Pittsburgh hiring committee. Since becoming a partner with Kirkpatrick & Lockhart in 1986, Lynch has seen a number of employment trend changes and developments. Lynch asserted that law firms don’t just gravitate towards hiring people who have earned a law degree, but they tend to hire people who possess a well-rounded education.

“At our firm we hire lateral candidates but most are hired out of law school and some are hired through the summer program,” explained Lynch, who has been chairman of the firm’s Pittsburgh hiring committee for the past 2-_ years. “We are very open to lateral candidates, but we do like to bring in law students. We also like to bring in people who have a history of strong academics and who are very articulate and who have good analytical skills.”
“For those who are already out, in addition to having the same qualities [as new hires], we look for someone who specializes in certain areas, and someone who has spent a few years learning the specific area so they can hit the ground running in that area,” he continued.

“Recently, there’s been significantly more lateral movement in the firms,” surmised Lisa Pupo Lenihan, former managing partner and founder of Burns White and Hickton, a Pittsburgh-based firm. “When I first got out of law school and started [in the profession] you got with one firm and you stayed there,” she recalled. “Now, there’s more movement and it’s easier for lawyers to find jobs.”

Lenihan, like many other lawyers, feels that the hiring of contract lawyers is a hot trend right now. “There’s a much heavier concentration on bringing in business,” she said. “When I first started, you worked for six or seven years and then you became partner. Now, people are looking at your skills and at what type of business you can bring to the table.” “I think people are still making partner, but they have to work harder at it. I think that lawyers are finding jobs in both smaller and larger firms, but the larger firms are hiring more,” continued Lenihan who helped to start the firm in 1987. In addition to noticing the rapid movement of lawyers from firm to firm compared to earlier years, Lenihan has also noticed changes in the hot areas where prospective employees are finding jobs.
Although her firm mainly deals with litigation, she also sees employment law as a growing area right now along with litigation.

Whether they have been in the legal profession for two years or 25 years, most lawyers agree that hiring trends in law are constantly changing and those changes bring about different needs for employers. In addition to leaving employers with a bevy of demands, the ever-changing market places a burden on law schools, who must try to predict changes and how to produce well-educated individuals to meet the needs of the legal community.

The Emperor’s New Clothes: An Analysis of the Increasing Salary Structure at Large Firms

It has been well reported in the news both locally and nationally that starting salaries at law firms have substantially increased. The salary increases had their genesis last year in Silicon Valley where law firms such as Gunderson Dettmer Stogh Villenueve Frankly & Hachigian in Menlo Park, California, concerned about dot.coms raiding their associates, substantially increased their salaries as much as 40%. A strong economy was generating an increasing level of transaction work and these firms needed to retain their associates. These increases in turn were matched by national law firms and gradually spilled over into regional firms. Recently the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported a number of local major law firms are now offering starting salaries in excess or near the vicinity of $100,000, leaving many local firms wondering how they should react.

The increasing legal salary structure parallels major league baseball where large market teams such as the New York Yankees, New York Mets and Los Angeles Dodgers have increase salaries to levels which teams such as the Pittsburgh Pirates can’t afford to pay. The only saving grace is law firms are not judged on winning the World Series. This is important because, as this article will illustrate, the salary competition is not healthy for national firms and could be potentially devastating for most regional or local law firms. In addition, if as this author believes, the premise of the salary increases are flawed, then there are substantial opportunities for law firms which rationally attack the salary issue and communicate their salary structure both internally and to clients.

What has become apparent is the salary increases were based on a mistaken premise that’s were a threat to law firm employee retention. Since this spring’s NASDAQ correction,’s are now being viewed more like other businesses; having to demonstrate earnings potential before their stock prices will rise. Therefore, the lure of big paydays, in the form of stock option based compensation to lawyers has waned.

Considering most entry level attorneys do not generate profits in their first four years but rather generate substantial losses at law firms the increase in starting salaries is even more troubling for law firms. In contrast, most professions such as medicine, accounting and engineering do not overpay their younger professionals until they are trained and profitable.

The question then for law firms is what to do about their salary structure if they have already increased salaries? This issue is also important to many local firms who have not responded to the salary increases and who are trying to determine how to react. Some potential strategies are listed below:

Pass the Costs of Increasing Salaries to Clients: This strategy appears less likely to succeed in the current market. Clients have become increasingly vigilant about monitoring their legal expenses. Substantial press coverage on associate salaries has educated clients that many fresh minted lawyers are earning salaries comparable to senior in-house attorneys. In fact, Fortune 500 clients such as DuPont Co., Inc., Monsanto Co., International Paper Co., and Cendant Co. have already stepped forward in the national press and voiced their objections to increased legal fees. Thomas C. Sager, VP & General Counsel at DuPont Co. bluntly stated, “I’m going to do anything in my power to support those firms that resist this . . . I will literally move work if I can, away from those firms that embrace this and to firms that resist this.”

Reaction from Western Pennsylvania companies could be even stronger because this region’s economy has not been experiencing the same growth rates as most major metropolitan regions. Locally, James Sander, Chief Legal Officer at General Nutrition Company, Inc. stated his company “is willing to pay outside legal fees for experience.” Sander observed, “Lawyers that come in from law school don’t have the necessary training to be immediately helpful.” Sander hopes that “the law firms raising starting salaries will subsidize the training until the associates are trained and ready to contribute.” “Higher rates”, noted Sander, “will cause [GNC] to increase its use of smaller and mid size firms to handle outside legal work.”

In a survey of 180 area companies focussing on the top legal officer in the area, respondents agreed that passing the cost on to the clients is wrong. Here are some of the anonymous reactions from various General Counsels, Associate General Counsel and Corporate Counsel.

Asst. GC: My company is not going to pay excessive rates for inexperienced attorneys.

Asst. GC: Higher salaries on top of hours invoiced for essentially training these first years strongly imply to me that these firms can’t even manage their own affairs efficiently, let alone mine.

GC: I am disturbed by the rapid increase in entry level salaries. I would be opposed to any increase in billing rates, which exceeds the increase in CPI.

GC: Having worked in private practice a number of years before taking a position in-house, I understand the need for firms to hire qualified attorneys. I don’t understand the need to pay starting salaries any more than $75,000 at best. If starting associates are at $100,000+, what are partners making? Clients would prefer to see lower rates. It may lead to the elimination of in-house counsel and increased business for law firms. With higher legal bills, companies are encouraged to bring more lawyers in-house. In today’s society, more lawyers would prefer in-house positions even if salaries were lower.

GC: This is a timely issue for me as the Chief Legal Officer of a large corporation which hires many outside counsel nationwide. Law firms must be made aware that corporate clients cannot be expected to pay large hourly rates to train new associates because they pay unreasonably high starting salaries. This is a gad trend that will ultimately continue to hurt law firms and encourage corporations to continue to perform more work in-house.

Assoc. GC: I suspect everyone’s rate will increase to fund the increase in starting associates’ salaries and corresponding salary increases across the ranks. We’ll pay more for the same quality services. As the billing rates of jr. associates rise, we lose some of the benefit of pushing more menial work down to junior personnel. I also suspect the higher salaries may actually increase attrition in the mid sr. associate ranks as firms attract good candidates who plan to work hard for a few years, or don’t plan to but in fact do, make good money, then move to another position offering a better lifestyle.

Corp. Couns: I find these salaries absurd, especially in light of the unavoidable increase in billing fees. Entry-level associates are unable, under any circumstances, to perform work that is totally independent. Their work will be reviewed by highly compensated partners. We therefore already have a minimum of 2 layers of cost. Any increase is unacceptable. I think firms are becoming more sensitive to this. We will, and have, taken our business elsewhere when we receive inflexibility in costs. There are many competent law firms out there from which to choose.

GC: Law firms did not have to increase every associate’s salary – only the ones whose skill sets are in demand.
Work Associates Harder: The Managing Partner at Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld stated his firm’s response to little more.” Locally partners at a number of firms have echoed these sentiments off the record as one strategy they will have to deploy to recoup the increased costs of salaries. The downside to this strategy is law firm employment, prior to the salary increase, was already a demanding profession. Increasing billing requirements from 1800 and 2000 hours to 2200 and 2500 per year presents serious quality issues as overworked associates could have problems hitting deadlines, responding to clients, learning clients’ business practices, keeping quality at a high level, and staying cheerful. According to Sunder Kekre, Professor of Operations Management and Manufacturing at Carnegie Mellon University’s Graduate School of Industrial Management when presented with this scenario, “Machines in factories fail when flogged to capacity. Likewise, the human machine is also vulnerable to overloads. Stressed lawyers can make poor judgments, overlook facts and give poor legal advice.” The two complaints we hear most often from in-house attorneys is the cost of projects and the difficulty in receiving timely work product. Increasing associate salaries clearly has the potential for exacerbating both of those concerns.

Partners Learn to Accept Reduced Compensation: This is a likely result for firms that allow their salary structures to exceed revenues by substantial margins. However, law firms are volatile business organizations often characterized by fiefdoms attempting to co-exist. Faced with the prospect of declining compensation, partners able to generate work often explore options at other firms. Partners unable to generate work begin looking more expensive to other partners. This volatility can be especially acute at local or regional law firms that are not capitalized to absorb significant loss-generating associate salaries.

Weed Out Under Performing Associates: One option to reduce expenses is to roll back the increases. This is difficult to achieve without impacting morale. In addition, some of the recent hires will develop into outstanding attorneys. A more likely scenario is attorneys with high salaries will be closely evaluated and terminated more quickly if they do not make the grade. Nationally and locally, this strategy is receiving attention. When salaries are too high, this is a reasonable approach. However, it does not afford a firm much opportunity to mentor and train young associates.

Re-Evaluate the Salary Structure: A better option is to re-evaluate a firm’s salary structure. Today law firms cannot be successful by only providing competent legal advice. Rather, firms today must also manage the economies of their firms in order to provide their lawyers with a satisfactory return. A reasonably salary coupled with a bonus or profit sharing structure based on billable hours, client feedback, business generation, special projects or other quantifiable criteria rewards profitable attorneys and aligns expenses with revenues. Because firms are not overpaying, it enables them to retain attorneys who take longer to develop without overpaying them. While this initially could sound unreasonable to young attorneys, the upside is that they are getting additional training, less pressure to perform immediately, and some relief from high billable hour requirements, all of which are certainly reasonable trade-offs. An important aspect to this strategy is to clearly communicate to associates the firm’s compensation philosophy and the opportunities created by the structure, and contrast this structure with the widely reported problems associated with overpaying associates. This open dialogue can minimize office coffee-break gossip that occurs in all law firms when perceived inequities occur, and can stem the tide of associate defections leaving for greener pastures. This strategy makes sense both for firms who are pondering salary increases and those who are overpaying young associates.

Market Salary Structure to Your Clients: Clients are as concerned about legal expenses. Firms that overpay young associates are creating a significant marketing opportunity for those firms who elect not to follow their lead. If that strategy is adopted and communicated effectively both internally and externally, a law firm staffed with the appropriate first chair partners leading projects can grow substantially even in a stagnant market. This strategy has worked in Pittsburgh. Some of our law firm clients have effectively, efficiently and profitably worked with the corporate clients to staff national projects with dozens of contract attorneys at rates, which higher cost law firms could not have afforded to staff. Long-term growth potential and profitability are the real long-term keys for law firms who wish to attract and retain strong associate talent.

Focus on Staffing Efficiently: There is nothing wrong with selectively rewarding and paying a premium to attract the best law students. It does result in hiring some strong associates. Law school grades are one important indicator of legal potential. However, many tasks at law firms are labor intensive yet still too legal to be staffed with paralegals. Areas like due diligence, document and privilege reviews, deposition summaries, and research and writing are well suited for reasonably priced contract attorneys who can handle this type of work profitably for a law firm while saving clients money. Further more, these types of projects give firms an opportunity to evaluate contract attorneys for permanent hire based on their work ethic, personality, ability to juggle and prioritize assignments. These important skills do not appear on a law school transcript. Deploying attorneys on a trial basis is the best way to evaluate these characteristics which manifest themselves on the job. Even large national law firms should not lose sight of the fact that they often have a number of partners who did not make Law Review or attend a top law school. Firms of all sizes should have a strategy to attract these well-rounded attorneys.

Eliminating or Reducing Practice Areas: Some national firms bitten by the salary bug have reacted by eliminating non-core practice areas where they do not have the resources to hire new associates. Landels, Ripley & Diamond, a mid-size firm in San Francisco, phased out its nine-attorney labor department and five attorney corporate practice to focus on core competencies where they could effectively recruit new lawyers. While focusing on core competencies makes sense in a competitive legal market, eliminating peripheral and profitable departments may not always make sense. If the issue is an inability to generate sufficient work, then scaling back to core competencies is a valid strategy. If the issue is inability to staff long-term, then one strategy is hiring experienced and technically strong but are not “rainmakers”. The firm can avoid the training expenses associated with maintaining a core department and focus on generating profits. If there is a good fit with the contract attorney, the firm can consider hiring that attorney to support any growth that occurs from a strategy focussed on generating efficient work product.

The salary dilemma is one that will not disappear on its own. It harms: (1) firms losing money by overpaying associates, (2) firms which, like deer caught in the headlights, do nothing and risk losing associates to other firms, (3) young overpaid associates facing unreasonable expectations for performance and higher billable hour requirements, (4) nonbusiness-generating partners looking expensive, (5) clients struggling to get timely work product from firms and to keep legal fees reasonable, and (6) law school graduates not getting hired at larger law firms because the starting salaries do not match their law school transcripts. However, adversity creates opportunity. Firms that capitalize on the overpayment of young associates by resisting the trend can build a stronger foundation to grow successful practices.

How to Judge Your Agency

There are many reasons why you should consider finding an agency to market your services for any type of legal position. A qualified agency will have targeted marketing strategies and possess established contacts in their legal community. Agencies quickly fill positions with qualified candidates without the time and expense associated with evaluating hundreds of resumes. These advantages cause clients to bypass advertising positions, relying on agencies instead to find qualified employees.

Criteria to Remember When Selecting an Agency


Be wary if an agency tries to charge a fee for accepting an application. The industry standard is for agencies to earn their fees based on placements with the fee paid directly by the client. Legal Network never charges its placements a fee of any type.

Qualified Oversight

A credible agency will have appropriately skilled placement directors who analyze the qualifications of their candidates. If not, the candidates resume may be sent to inappropriate jobs resulting in a waste of time or the agency will flood job inquiries with dozens of resumes, diminishing the odds for a qualified candidate to be placed. Our Placement Directors are attorneys who employ a rigorous three step evaluation process in matching attorneys to potential positions. Paralegals and legal secretaries are evaluated by a similar three step evaluation process over seen by a placement director active in the Pittsburgh Legal Administrators community.

Technical Capabilities

Even the best evaluation process means little if the agency is ineffective in quickly identifying you as a candidate. The probability on being placed diminishes if your resume ends up in a file cabinet, subject only to the recall abilities of the agency’s placement staff. Legal Network employs a state of the art database, which captures information about our lawyers based on their initial review and allows us to run sophisticated searches for the best candidates.

Agency’s Reputation

If you haven’t heard of the agency, many potential employers haven’t heard of it either. Legal Network has been the placement leader in Western Pennsylvania since 1995. We are owned and operated by attorneys who are fully knowledgeable about the marketplace. The organization has pioneered interim legal staffing, had numerous articles written about its services and appeared on local television shows. Legal Network employs an extensive mailing campaign supplemented by targeted advertising.


The salaries being offered by legal organizations vary widely. Legal Network has been published based on our analysis of salary trends in the region. You can look to Legal Network for guidance on whether salary offers are reasonable so you’re not short changed when taking a new position.

There is also wide divergence among temporary placement companies in terms of compensation offered. At one time it was common for placement companies to keep upwards of half of what the client was paying. Therefore it is important for candidates considering a placement agency to ask; “How are you paid?” Is your compensation low? Are you receiving any benefits? Legal Network recognizes its employees as stakeholders in the organization. We employ a strict pricing formula that enables placements to earn a wage comparable to what they would make as employees in a mid-sized law firm. Furthermore, Legal Network provides a wide range of benefits including vacation bonuses and a 401K plan.


Will you be contacted before your resume is ever sent out on a job? Your name and reputation are important commodities. Don’t let an agency indiscriminately mail your resume to potential employers. Too much exposure could reduce your marketability in the legal community. There is also the risk of embarrassing situations if positions in which you have no interest receive your resume. Legal Network never releases any resume until you have been contacted and consented.


How does the agency handle your inquiries? Are they professional in their response to your resume? Are they knowledgeable about the field and able to answer your questions? If not, they probably make the same impression on potential clients. Legal Network emphasizes sales training and professionalism in how it conducts business.