The preliminary jobs numbers for 2012 are in, and while last year's herky-jerky hiring in the legal sector resulted in a net increase of 7,800 jobs for the yearor 0.7 percent more than in 2011the legal industry nonetheless grew at only half the rate of the broader economy, where the total number of jobs increased 1.4 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The mild uptick in legal hiring, combined with the even smaller gains of 400 jobs in 2011 and 4,800 in 2010, has done little to make up for the combined 60,100 jobs the sector lost from the beginning of 2008 through the end of 2009.
The 2012 BLS jobs data, whose monthly figures are revised for two months following their release and on an annual basis for five years, serves as further evidence that employment in the legal sector might never fully bounce back.
In a separate set of data collected by the BLS, the legal services sector93 percent of which is made up of employees in law offices, and the remaining percentage is comprised of nonlawyer legal practitioners like paralegals and notariesis projected to grow by 64,200 jobsor nearly 6 percentbetween 2010 and 2020, according to BLS's Occupational Statistics and Employment Projections office, which generates its figures based on household surveys that includes the self-employed. (The current employment statistics that the BLS releases every month are based on a payroll survey of business and government agencies and excludes the self-employed.)
For that projection to hold true, however, the industry has quite a lot ground to make up since it gained only 12,300 jobs in the first three years of that time frame, leaving it about 6,300 jobs off of the projected 6 percent rate.
The total number of lawyerswho also fall into industry sectors other than legal servicesis expected to grow at a rate of 10 percent between 2010 and 2020, down from the 13 percent increase the BLS had projected for the 200818 period.
Law firms' tip-toed approach to hiringa fixture of the leaner postrecession modelisn't helping the matter.
"Firms don't just hire a body anymore. They're hiring with much more caution for specific positions," says Mark Kwatcher, president of Kwatcher Legal Placement in Boston.
A heavier emphasis on as-needed hiring may have contributed to the swings in legal sector employment in 2012, a year in which there was never more than two consecutive months of employment growth. Last year's best and worst months came back-to-back when the biggest loss of the year2,900 jobs in Marchwas immediately followed by the biggest gain3,200 in April.
"Firms are not overhiring, and they don't have too few people. Firms have become very savvy in that regard," Kwatcher says.