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Contracting roles in law on the rise, say recruiters

This year will be, as one recruiter puts it, “pivotal” for the legal profession, characterised by “a more fluid workforce”. Such changes to the landscape will require greater adaptability, strategy, and proactivity in legal recruitment.

user iconJerome Doraisamy 16 January 2024 Big Law
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Increased contract roles

When thinking about the job market in 2024, LOD head of people and development Sofia Khan told Lawyers Weekly there is a “strong feeling of optimism”.

“We ended 2023 seeing many legal team budgets either reduce or plateau. There was a feeling of unpredictability as many legal teams were simply operating in ‘firefighting’ mode, limiting their ability to properly plan what their resourcing needs would be,” she espoused.


Looking ahead, however, there is a “positive shift” in the market happening – not just in Australia, but globally, she said, with organisations seeking secondees of varied levels of seniority across various sectors.

“Whilst the legal profession experienced a candidate crunch over the past two years, late 2023 saw the legal talent market bloom, with many high-calibre legal professionals re-entering the market ready for their next challenge,” she outlined.

“This can be attributed to contract roles coming to their natural end, lawyers returning home to Australia, and many lawyers proactively choosing to move into contracting from their roles after the COVID-19 lockdowns.”

Carlyle Kingswood Global director (legal and GRC, in-house) Phillip Hunter supported this, noting that in 2024, the legal profession is expected to witness a marked increase in both temporary and full-time contracting roles.

“This evolution is primarily driven by the global shift towards more dynamic and flexible work environments, influenced by the lasting impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and the rapid digitisation of the legal industry,” he offered.

Contractors, Sharp & Carter partner Lee Ruddy (legal and compliance) explained, “remain a vital part” of in-house team’s resources when needed to cover leave periods or specific project-based work.

“What we are seeing from general counsel and hiring managers is a focus on value and competitive pricing. High margins for service providers are being challenged with some new entrants who offer transparency in their pricing winning work and accounts, long held by larger players in the space,” he said.

The increase in contract positions may also be down to challenges in boosting headcount, especially in industries facing turbulent times, said G2 Legal Australian director Daniel Stirling.

“As ever, GCs will need to consider whether increased workloads are temporary or ongoing when determining whether to fill roles permanently or temporarily,” he reflected.

The contracting trend, Mr Hunter opined, will likely influence remuneration structures.

“We might see a shift towards more performance-based compensation models, aligning with the project-based nature of contract work,” he suggested.

“This could lead to higher earning potentials for those who excel in their specialisations.”

Implications and actions

Employers will have to appreciate, Mr Hunter outlined, that a trend towards contracting is demonstrable of a need to adapt to a “more fluid workforce”.

“They must focus on offering competitive, flexible contracts to attract top talent, especially in high-demand specialisations,” he warned.

“The rise in contracting work also presents an opportunity for legal firms and departments to manage costs effectively, as they can scale their workforce based on current needs without the long-term financial commitments associated with permanent staffing.”

Such approaches from employers will be critical – as Mr Ruddy noted, “the truly independent contractor who sources their own work” through referrals or networks is becoming more and more prevalent.

In light of this, he said, “offering a further option beyond your atypical model” is a trend that he expects to rise this year.

Lawyers, Ms Khan explained, are currently considering more than just financial factors when exploring permanent or contract roles.

Increasingly, she said, they are assessing the organisations’ values, including but not limited to whether those prospective employers’ ways of working resonate with one’s personal values and the extent of environmental, social and governance (ESG) action (or lack thereof). This latter point, she noted, is very much on the rise.

It is perhaps the case that lawyers can meditate on potential roles in such ways given that, as Mr Hunter pointed out, lawyers are increasingly likely to find a diverse range of opportunities in the market for contract roles.

“This flexibility can be a significant advantage, offering exposure to various legal domains and work cultures,” he said.

However, he did add that such an environment also necessitates a continuous investment in personal and professional development.

“Legal professionals must stay abreast of the latest industry trends, regulatory changes, and technological advancements to maintain their competitive edge,” he advised.

Other trends

Elsewhere, Mr Stirling identified, the “talent freeze” in law has recently shown “some signs of thawing” for in-house teams.

This is due, he noted, to a slight decrease in overall demand from other sectors, including domestic law firms and particularly the international market.

“Also, firms are offering less dramatic salary increases, ensuring that expectations when moving in-house are becoming more realistic,” he said.

“It remains challenging to find and secure the best legal talent, but I believe that this shortage will continue to ease as we move further into 2024.”

Mr Stirling also told Lawyers Weekly that he expects hiring demand in-house to be “high” in 2024.

“The market was resilient in 2023 despite some global economic challenges, and the year finished strongly. I see no reason why this will not continue as we move into 2024,” he proclaimed.

Such high activity will be varied, he added, across industries and levels of seniority.

“Demand will peak in industries with a high demand for lawyers and low supply, such as construction and infrastructure and renewables. In terms of experience level, demand remains high for mid-level lawyers around four to eight years. There have also been some recent GC level moves which may create more opportunities for movement or career progression for other senior lawyers,” he listed.

In terms of practice area movements, and on the back of what he called “the global nature of modern business challenges”, Mr Hunter said the legal services marketplace is likely to see a heightened demand for specialised legal professionals.

This will be particularly so, he observed, in emerging areas such as cyber law, fintech regulations, and international compliance standards.

Ms Khan made similar observations, noting she is anticipating elevated recruitment activity among privacy, technology, merger and acquisition, general commercial, energy and resources, and banking, among other sectors, this year.


Ultimately, Mr Hunter mused, 2024 will be a “pivotal year” in Australia’s legal profession.

It will, he said, be “characterised by an increase in flexible, project-based employment”.

“This change will require both employers and candidates to be more adaptable, strategic, and proactive in their approach to talent management and career development,” he submitted.

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