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Legal Sector Gains More Jobs, Nears Pre-Pandemic Levels

By Aebra Coe · June 4, 2021, 9:57 PM EDT

The U.S. legal sector is inching its way back toward pre-pandemic employment levels, according to a report out Friday by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which showed the sector added 1,700 jobs between April and May.

The number of seasonally adjusted jobs in the sector rose to 1,138,500 in May, preliminary data from the federal agency shows, a 0.15% improvement over the previous month that brings the industry within 5,000 jobs of a high water mark it reached two years ago in May 2019 before plummeting last spring amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Looking back at the last three years as of May, legal jobs fluctuated from 1,143,000 to 1,095,000 and now back to 1,139,000.

The hiring spree comes as U.S. law firms choose where to direct the big profits they pulled in last year, with many reaping the benefits of a remote workplace and other budget cuts that were implemented early on in the pandemic alongside modest increases in revenue.

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According to a report earlier this year by Wells Fargo Private Bank, revenue growth averaged 3.2% across a sampling of surveyed firms last year, while profits climbed an average of 9.9%.

Many legal recruiters report they are busier than they've ever been right now as firms scramble to hire attorneys who can accommodate an uptick in legal work the firms are experiencing.

While the jobs numbers are positive in relation to 2019, they are still lower than they were more than a decade ago before the Great Recession. The number of seasonally adjusted legal industry jobs in January 2008 was 1,168,000. Two years later, it had slid to 1,110,000.

Despite the growth this past month, the legal industry was outpaced by overall growth in nonfarm jobs in the U.S., according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics report.

Nonfarm jobs in the U.S. grew by 559,000 to 144,894,000 between April and May, marking a 0.39% increase, more than double the legal industry's 0.15% increase.

Overall nonfarm jobs have risen by 8.6% over the last year, compared to 4% in the legal sector specifically.

The report also included information on remote working across the U.S., something law firms are paying close attention to as they begin to bring workers back into the office.

In May, 16.6% of employed people teleworked because of the coronavirus pandemic, down from 18.3% in the month before, the report found.

--Additional reporting by Emma Cueto. Editing by Alyssa Miller.

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