As we’re now comfortably settled into 2024, this is a good time to share a few predictions for hiring and recruitment in the legal marketing, BD and communications space this year.
But, first, to give all-important context to these predictions, let’s recap on what happened in the market last year.
Looking Back at 2023
The year 2023 could be described as “a game of two halves.”
In the first half of last year, law firms’ marketing, BD and communications teams were actively hiring. In fact, many were struggling to fill their remaining roles and were, for the first time since the pandemic, on track towards having a fully stocked marketing, BD and communications function.
Through January to June, candidates were in control, with a plethora of potential opportunities from which to choose.
The second half of 2023 saw a stabilization and normalization of the market, effectively returning us to a pre-pandemic playing field. Job numbers remained steady, but the almost unprecedented demand for candidates that followed the “return to normality” after the pandemic had stopped and we found ourselves in a pre-Covid, more “typical” hiring market.
As a result, the job vacancies within legal marketing, BD and communications were mostly replacement headcounts as opposed to newly created roles. Business as usual for marketing, BD and communications roles within law firms!
You might assume, then, that the market has since swung back in favor of employers.
Not so fast…
While there hasn’t been the above-average demand to hire that we saw in H1 2023, the reality is that in the second half of the year, firms were still looking for high-caliber candidates but experienced a very passive talent pool.
The reason: With close to 18 months of record-breaking hiring levels for active vacancies, those candidates that had wanted to move following the pandemic had already made that move and were no longer actively looking.
So that brings us to today. And what we’re already seeing, and expect to see in 2024, is the need for firms to sell their propositions with even more gusto.
Looking at 2024
With that context from the past year, here are my top 4 predictions on what we might see happen in 2024.
1. Salaries will flatten.
Given the record-breaking salary hikes we saw in 2022 and for part of 2023, we can expect to see that salary increases will reduce somewhat in 2024.
This is partly due to the quantity of available roles in the market not being as high as seen previously in 2022 when there was a record-breaking number of vacancies in the market. While talent is still hard to find and secure, law firms are not as desperate to fill their vacancies as they were immediately post-pandemic, hence salary uplifts are likely to quiet down or readjust to more normal increments for both for new hires and existing staff.
Throughout the post-pandemic market, salaries have, in general, been far higher than average, as law firms increased their salary bands to remain competitive with other firms.
While previously salary uplifts were somewhere in the ballpark of 3-5% annually (with some flexibility to account for inflation), the anticipated continued slowing of inflation this year will mean that employees will need to set their expectations accordingly.
Salary increases are unlikely to be as steep in 2024 as they were last year and in 2022.
As for bonuses, the legal sector has always been a sector that tends to pay well when it comes to base salaries, with the bonus structure making up less of the total compensation than compared to other sectors. On average, bonuses tend to fluctuate somewhere in the region of 7-12% of base salary for management level and above, depending on how firms calculate their bonuses -- whether that’s based on individual vs. firm performance.
It's a bit of a waiting game now as we will need to see the announced firm financial results for 2023 to see the firm percentage that make up the individual bonus structure. My guess would be that most people will still fall somewhere in that 7-12% bracket.
2. New, experienced talent will enter the market.
The “war for talent” began at the end of 2021, during which time many talented marketing, BD and communications professionals changed roles.
We’ve seen in recent years in working with marketing, BD and communications professionals in the U.S. and across the globe that the typical tenure of these roles is 2-3 years, particularly up to the Senior Management level.
As a result, some will invariably start to explore the market within 2024. And this means good and not-so-good news.
On the good news side, you will discover your skills remain in just as high demand.
And the not-so-good news: There may be slightly few opportunities out there than in 2021/2022.
3. The hybrid working debate will continue.
The office vs. remote working debate rages on, and we can expect that it will continue to be a talking point in 2024.
This is without doubt the one question we get asked about most, both from an individual perspective and from employers who are interested to hear what other firms are doing.
We have generally observed most firms going back to a “three days in the office” work week, with some opting for four. My assessment is that most law firms will continue with the "three days in" policy, as this seems to be the number that works reasonably well for both parties.
There have also been a few outliers, with moves up to five days in-office. But, in the end, experience has shown us that law firms tend to move in packs, so this is worth following carefully in the weeks and months to come.
4. A focus on learning and development will be key for retention.
Learning and development will be the biggest topic that both employers and individuals will need to get right this year.
Many firms made a significant number of hires post-pandemic, so focusing on the development of these individuals will be essential if firms are to limit attrition during 2024. Leading firms are doing more than providing strong orientation programs. They are committing to continuous growth and learning within their marketing, BD and communications teams.
As part prediction and part advice, this should be something you are pursuing with your current firm. Many of your peers will have taken a step up in their careers over the past 24 months, so it’s important to ensure you are focusing on your own development and upskilling to compete with other talented colleagues in the market.
So there you have it – some early hiring predictions for 2024. While always a fun but hardly scientific exercise, predictions can go either way, and only time will tell whether my crystal ball is foggy or clear.
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