The local legal industry is changing as it and the rest of the area's economy emerge from disruptions caused by COVID-19.
According to one industry insider, there’s a labor crunch as law firms both local and national snap up attorneys, especially more junior ones with specialties in corporate transactions — as those sorts of deals are quickly returning to, or surpassing, pre-pandemic levels.
“The normal calendar for hiring got disrupted by the pandemic,” said Candice Reed, executive vice president at Latitude, a company that provides attorneys to law firms and businesses on a contract basis. “What we’re seeing right now is an extremely high demand for junior attorneys in transactional fields.”
That means — in some cases and with some specialties — higher pay and increased recruiting competition. The entrance of some national firms on the scene has also contributed to increased demand. According to Reed, that includes both firms like K&L Gates, which has recruited local attorneys and set up an office here, and national firms that are recruiting Nashville lawyers to work remotely for them as they see increased demand from clients elsewhere.
As salaries at some firms have increased in response, Reed said, in-house legal jobs have not seen a similar increase, and that “could impact the flow of attorneys moving from law firms to in house.”
Specifically, Reed said, attorneys with specialties in mergers and acquisitions, securities, commercial real estate and data privacy have been in highest demand.
At some other smaller Nashville law firms, the effects of the pandemic have been less pronounced.
As Brian Holmes, managing partner at Cornelius & Collins, said, “People keep suing even when times are bad.”
For the law firm, he said, productivity dropped off in the early period of the pandemic as employees had to pivot to working from home, and many trials were delayed as courts operated at limited capacity.
“We’re just now starting to see these start again, and it’s going to take a while to flush them out,” he said.
Cornelius & Collins did see an uptick in employment work, specifically related to the hospitality industry, as some clients laid off many workers in early months and now are seeking to bring some back. Though he said he hasn’t noticed “any significant difference in the labor market,” Holmes added that the firm was looking to hire someone early into COVID-19 but deferred doing so because of the perceived difficulty of onboarding someone remotely.
At GSRM Law, a conservative business approach resulted in limited fiscal fallout during the worst of COVID-19, according to Managing Partner Phil Welty.
“Our firm has been fortunate in that we have managed to stay the course with our attorneys, staffing and clients during the pandemic,” he said. “We have always been conservative with our staffing, and we were able to keep all our staff employed during the pandemic. … We anticipate steady growth in our numbers over the next few years, but we have not had any immediate need for dramatic growth in the short term to serve our clients since the effects of the pandemic have tapered off.”