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Legal Sector Adds Jobs for Second Consecutive Month

Nov. 6, 2020, 5:06 PM

The legal sector followed the economy’s overall lead in October, adding 4,800 jobs to payrolls, continuing a slow turnaround from the economic battering of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Labor Department’s Friday report showed the U.S. added a seasonally adjusted 638,000 jobs last month, lowering the unemployment rate to 6.9%. That marks a continued slow jobs climb even as virus infections keep rising in many places across the country.

The legal sector’s October gains followed an uptick of 3,000 jobs in September, a switch from flat August numbers. Firms have spent some months settling in to the new mode of working from home. Now they are looking at longer-term finances and jettisoning some payroll positions as a consequence.

At the same time, large firms like Baker Botts, Reed Smith, Loeb & Loeb, and Katten Muchin Rosenman have been reversing pay cuts made soon after Covid-19 forced employees out of their firm workplaces. Some firms have also paid out Covid-19 bonuses to attorneys.

Overall, legal industry employment has hovered around 1.1 million, slipping down from the comparable seasonally adjusted figure of 1.15 million in October 2019, according to Labor Department figures.

Lateral hiring is flourishing at the nation’s largest firms, which are vigorously pursuing legal expertise in active business areas such as bankruptcy and restructuring and capital markets. The fate of firm business professionals at some firms is more wobbly, with Goodwin Procter, Locke Lord, and McDermott Will & Emery among those announcing staff layoffs.

Combining with other firms remains an option for some firms whose finances and workflow have been endangered by the economic turmoil inflicted by the pandemic. But word on any mergers or acquisitions is unlikely before the new year. Such consolidation is time consuming, taking months to resolve complex issues of compensation and control.

To contact the reporter on this story: Elizabeth Olson at egolson1@gmail.com
To contact the editor on this story: Chris Opfer at copfer@bloombergindustry.com;
John Hughes at jhughes@bloombergindustry.com