Employment in legal occupations increased in the third quarter despite headwinds caused by the Delta variant. Bureau of Labor Statistics data show that third-quarter legal employment (1.9 million) was higher than it was in Q2 (1.76 million), reaching levels not attained since October 2020.
Paralegals experienced a surge in employment in the quarter, increasing overall employment to approximately 458,000—a 15% jump since Q2—surpassing pre-pandemic employment levels for the first time. Lawyer employment, meanwhile, inched up modestly, by 1.5%, to 1.08 million.
At the same time, the unemployment rate among paralegals and lawyers fell to 3.6% (from 5.7%) and 1.2% (from 1.9%), respectively.
These changes may be attributed to improving economic conditions driving increased business activity and legal work, which often necessitate more lawyers—and more paralegals to assist lawyers.
But where paralegal and lawyer employment increased in the third quarter, employment among legal support roles fell by 7% in Q3, to 66,000, following a steep decline in Q2.
Legal support employees typically handle on-site duties and include positions such as receptionists and couriers. With Bureau of Labor Statistics data indicating that 34% of legal occupations employees continue to telework due to the pandemic, organizations may be reluctant to hire or hold on to these traditionally office-based jobs if few employees are working on-site.
The legal support role’s unemployment rate fell to 0.3% from 6.7% in Q3, indicating that despite the drop in employment, few are looking for these positions—either because they have left the workforce or because they found other employment within the legal industry.
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