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Orbit article

2020 has been a challenging year, with the in-house community facing new and novel challenges in responding to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. To benchmark the impact of the pandemic on recruitment, Orbit Legal, long time partners of the ACC Australia, Future Leaders Mentoring Program, recently undertook a survey of in-house legal professionals in Australia.

Pre-emptive change at the beginning of the pandemic

Unsurprisingly a large number of respondents (nearly 40%) reported hiring freezes and/or a decrease in the hiring of permanent lawyers and contractors at the start of the pandemic. Only 8% of respondents reported increases in the hiring of permanent lawyers and contractors. Based on our experience, we suspect those that saw an increase in hiring were those organisations dealing with challenging human resources issues, who previously had not required employment law specialists in their teams.

The top three triggers for these changes in recruitment practices were tightened budget constraints (36%), organisational approach to anticipated pandemic-related changes (25%) and COVID-19 related legal issues (13%).

Evolution of change during the pandemic

Almost half of the respondents (45%) reported that recruitment practices for their legal team were now the same or had reverted back to pre-pandemic levels. While approximately a fifth of respondents reported that hiring freezes and/or a decrease in hiring of permanent lawyers were still in place, pleasingly none of the respondents saw a decrease in the hiring of legal contractors. In fact 12% of respondents reported an increase in hiring of permanent lawyers and contractors.

Unsurprisingly budget constraints and organisational approaches to anticipated or emerging pandemic-related changes remain the top triggers for these changes to recruitment processes. Interestingly, an increase in workloads has also seen recruitment increase for some.

Expectations of future changes to recruitment processes

The majority of our respondents (58%) expect hiring practices to remain the same or to revert back to pre-pandemic levels of recruitment; while a small number (12.5%) believe that changes to recruitment introduced to combat market fluctuation will remain in place for some time.

A small number of respondents (14%) expect that hiring of permanent and contract lawyers will be increased, which is welcome news for lawyers seeking employment or to make a change in 2021.

Results by industry

Education reported no pre-emptive changes to recruitment in response to the pandemic but saw levels decrease (including redundancies) during the pandemic triggered by the decline of international student numbers and changes to funding arrangements.

The Financial services industry saw a pre-emptive decrease in recruitment (57%). However, recruitment practices seem to have mostly reverted back to pre-pandemic levels (29%) or even increased (43%) during the pandemic. Future outlook is positive with most respondents expecting this trend to continue.

While some of the FMCG / Retail industry reported experiencing reduction in hiring pre-emptively (25%) and during the pandemic (38%), it seems that predominantly recruitment practices remained the same throughout the period. The outlook for the future also seems very positive with 75% of respondents expecting recruitment practices to revert back to or remain the same as pre-pandemic levels.

The Technology industry reported mixed pre-emptive responses: 40% decreased hiring practices, 40% remained the same and 20% increased recruitment. During the pandemic, respondents reported a 50/50 split between decreasing the hiring of permanent and contractor lawyers and recruitment levels remaining consistent with pre-pandemic practices. Outlook of future recruitment in these teams was overall positive with 80% expecting recruitment levels to be the same as pre-pandemic or increase.

Results by team size

Overall the size of legal teams did not seems to effect recruitment practices pre-emptively in response to the pandemic. However once the pandemic hit, it seems smaller teams were more commonly effected with 58% of respondents in small legal teams (2-5 lawyers) reporting a decrease compared to only 29% of respondents in medium sized teams (6-12 lawyers) and large teams (12+ lawyers). The good news is that large legal teams report a positive outlook with 79% expecting hiring practices to return to pre-pandemic levels and 14% expecting to see recruitment increase.


In summary the survey reveals what most of us would have guessed: there was a very significant decrease in recruitment of in-house lawyers in response to the pandemic, with most companies implementing hiring freezes or changing their recruitment practices. Coming out of the pandemic the majority of organisations now seem to be reverting to “normal” practices. So while there will continue to be fallout across the economy, the outlook for legal recruitment is looking much healthier than what most would have predicted it would look like back in June, at the peak of the pandemic in Australia.


In our experience, each role is different. That’s why we work in consultation with our clients to find the right solution to their resourcing needs.

If you’re looking for a flexible and practical legal resourcing solution on an unexpected project or a temporary gap in your legal team, contact Linda Grace for a confidential conversation on how Orbit can work for you.


Linda Grace

Director of Orbit

Phone: +61 3 9672 3509


If your organisation is recruiting this year, the search for quality candidates is easy with ACC Australia’s Career Centre.

The Career Centre is the only job search website specifically designed for in-house lawyers. This means your entire audience is looking for in-house roles.