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Law firms hiring AI talent better hurry

March 15, 2024 (3 min read)
The letters

By Geoffrey D. Ivnik, Esq. | Director of Large Markets, LexisNexis 

The hottest jobs in the U.S. right now are the ones that involve expertise in the application of artificial intelligence. New AI-related job listings are up 42% since December 2022, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal on March 5, 2024, while the overall market for new IT job listings have declined by 31% over the same period.

This national HR trend is playing out in the legal industry as well. More than one-fourth (28%) of law firm leaders and Fortune 1000 executives who responded to the LexisNexis 2024 Investing in Legal Innovation Survey: The Rise of Gen AI at Top Firms & Corporations anticipate increased hiring for technologists to support AI initiatives in 2024. This forecast is even more pronounced among Am Law 200 firms, with 38% planning to increase staffing for AI-related projects this year.

“The AI boat is leaving the dock and there’s a finite amount of talent in the market right now — whether that’s internal or external — to help you with an AI tool implementation that makes sense for your unique set of needs,” said Greg Lambert, chief knowledge services officer at Jackson Walker, in comments during a recent Wall Street Journal event for law firm managing partners. “The longer you wait, the further that boat is going to get away from the dock.”

Lambert noted that law firms will be at a competitive disadvantage if they wait too long to acquire and develop the talent needed to drive their AI initiatives.

“When you finally make the determination to go forward and try to retain a consultant to help you or to hire someone internally, those resources are going to be mostly allocated already,” Lambert said. “This is something that I don’t think a lot of law firm leaders are thinking about. The market is already moving, so if you’re standing still you are actually going backwards because everyone else is leaving you. That gap is going to be very hard to traverse.”

Industry experts argue there is a pressing need for law firm leaders to think about both the AI technologies in which they want to invest and the AI technologists they wish to recruit, hire and develop.

“There is going to be a need and an expectation among corporate clients that their law firms will use generative artificial intelligence tools,” said Anita Barksdale, advisory managing director in the KPMG Cyber Security practice. “Law firms need to have a workforce that can help you navigate and train these models. You’re going to have to teach and train up.”

Eric Talley, professor of law at Columbia Law School, points out that this talent acquisition and training should extent to associates — many of whom will come into their new firms already quite adept at using Gen AI — and that law firms should be open to the reality that their existing staff may be able to learn a thing or two from young lawyers.

“I think there’s going to be kind of two-way teaching algorithm that goes on where my students who take my class teach me some things about how to do prompt engineering,” said Talley. “Then I then see them moving in the direction of teaching senior associates and partners in their law firms about AI tools that are available to them.”

This article was based on one of the panel discussions at the Wall Street Journal event, “What Every Managing Partner & C-Suite Leader Needs to Know About Legal AI,” which took place on January 31st in New York City. Watch the entire session, Legal Leaders and Early Adopters, for more insights from industry leaders.