Rising demand stretches law firms
February 27, 2022
Although the “Great Resignation” is hitting other industries harder, Virginia law firms are experiencing a tight labor market while seeing increased demand for services.
Alison McKee, former president of the Virginia Bar Association and attorney at Kaufman & Canoles PC in Virginia Beach, notes that “2021 has been the busiest year in a while. I think there’s a talent shortage at the lower levels,” including associate attorneys, the typical entry-level position for new law school graduates.
The combination of heavier workloads – especially in legal transactions – and an insufficient number of lawyers has strained businesses. And on top of that, some young lawyers are also struggling with school closures and childcare worries, says McKee: “I raised four kids. I would be completely stressed.
A January report from the Thomson Reuters Institute and Georgetown University Law Center found demand for law firm services rose 4% last year, following a 1.6% decline in 2020, and 60% of mid-level lawyers from 77 Am Law 200 firms surveyed said they would consider leaving their firms for a better work-life balance. Another 27% said they would leave for a higher salary.
In December 2021, Reuters reported that nearly 14,000 associate attorneys moved between U.S. law firms last year, a 51% increase from the four-year average. Additionally, the number of law school applicants for 2022 is down 5% from fall 2021, the first drop since 2018, according to the Law School Admission Council.
McKee says law firm executives are “very aware” of their employees’ struggles to complete their work amid the unpredictability of the pandemic, and most are allowing lawyers to work from home and work unconventional hours. And although she has not seen young lawyers leave the firms in exodus, “we talk about it a lot”.
Some older lawyers, she says, are choosing to retire earlier than expected, and the pandemic has also created a lot of isolation, which can be especially difficult for early-career lawyers. “Young people have been pretty much stagnant in what they need to do for customer culture and bar business,” McKee notes. “I believe that meeting other lawyers is a real highlight of our profession.
With the legalization of marijuana possession and more legislation on how to license commercial sales of THC products in Virginia, as well as legal actions resulting from changes in state government, attorneys are likely to be even busier.
Although Republicans, who have regained control of the House of Delegates and the governorship, have different priorities than Democrats in terms of licensing and creating a legal retail marijuana market. State lawmakers are poised to take action to regulate sales and taxation this year.
Also, new Republican Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares succeeded Democrat Mark Herring, who held the position for eight years.
Miyares is already taking very different positions, ordering public universities to end their vaccination mandates, reversing abortion opinions and firing 30 attorneys from his office, as well as University of Virginia attorney Tim Heaphy. , while on leave investigating the Jan. 6 2021, United States Capitol uprising.
In other news from the Virginia legal industry, former executives of LeClairRyan, once the state’s fifth-largest company, reached a settlement in November 2021 with the defunct company’s insurer and trustee in bankruptcy to over $10 million in pending claims. However, trustee Lynn Tavenner’s $128 million claim against legal services provider UnitedLex continues, with trial scheduled for April. The 26 defendants include 13 former The directors and officers of LeClairRyan who, according to Tavenner, cost the company at least $41.7 million.