U.S. legal services employment was flat in December as the broader economy battled fallout from the coronavirus pandemic, according to Labor Department figures released Friday.
Legal payrolls fell by a seasonally adjusted drop of 200 people, after rising modestly for three consecutive months. The sector added a seasonally adjusted 5,000 jobs in November, 4,800 in October and 3,000 in September.
The U.S. labor market overall lost 140,000 jobs in December, down from the 245,000 jobs added in November. Jobs declined as employers sought to cope with surges in virus cases and changes in restrictions on restaurants and other public-facing businesses.
As the legal market stabilized in recent months, it’s been full steam ahead for large, wealthy firms who have been poaching rival firm dealmakers. Flush with cash from financing deals, the biggest law firms are aggressively recruiting partners to bolster flourishing practice areas or expand promising ones.
Latham & Watkins, for example, this month announced the hiring of partner Steven Feldman from a litigation boutique whose clients included T-Mobile US Inc. and Peleton Interactive Inc.
While top-earning firms are doing well, legal services industry employment remains fairly static, employing about 1.12 million in December. That is lower than the seasonally adjusted 1.15 million from the same month a year earlier.
While relatively few lawyers have lost jobs, some firms have axed in-office staff such as secretaries and planners, as they have relied more on lawyers working from home offices.
In addition to law firms, corporate legal departments have also made some personnel cuts. Employment in legal occupations, a separate Labor Department indicator that tracks total legal jobs across the workforce, was down in December.