The Current State of Legal Sector Employment

roller coaster 2Since this time last year, the legal sector has added a total of 4,000 jobs. Currently, the sector employs 1,137,000, which is up 2,300 in Q1 this year. At face value, this seems to suggest an overall positive trend. However, a closer look at the numbers over the last thirteen months (March to March) past year paints a picture not quite as optimistic.

A look at the graph below shows just how up and down employment has been in the sector over the past year. The one thing that has been consistent is that there has been no real consistency! Call it topsy-turvy, a roller-coaster ride, a mountainous landscape—all of those terms describe well the extent of uncertainty which now seems to be the reality for all industries, not just legal.

Other observations also come to light. For one, we see the makings of what appear to be seasonal trends. This, we would expect—hiring around the start of the year and toward the end of the summer, with layoffs sandwiched in between and at the end of the year. We also notice a discouraging overall trend. Despite strong actual gains in March (3,100), July (2,800), and August (2,700) 2013, as well as January (1,600) 2014, the numbers clearly show the overall trend as negative (shown by the chart’s black dash trendline).

What can we take away from this? We do need to remember this is a short-term view. However, it is not far off from what the sector has experienced dating back to the great recession in 2008. So while there are 4,000 more jobs than there were this time last year, we are growing at a slowed rate. Part of that is due to the reality that we have yet hit the summertime months, which may prove tough if they are at all like they were last year (6,500 lost in a two-month span).

In fact, should the sector follow a similar seasonality this year, employment will continue to decline—with a very real possibility the trendline dips down below 0, seeing as the start of Q1 in 2014 was not as strong as that of Q1 of 2013. At that point, the sector would not be forecasted to grow but to contract. Thus, what happens over the next few months will be critical in discerning how long the slump may continue.

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