Md. lawyers survey shows optimism on economy

Maryland attorneys are cautiously optimistic about the state of the economy, anticipate investing in marketing and technology at their firms and expect an uptick in billable hours over the next three months, according to the first Daily Record quarterly Maryland Lawyers Confidence Index survey.

At the same time, respondents – most of whom are solo practitioners or work at small firms – say they are unlikely to invest in infrastructure or to hire additional staff or associates, the survey found.

The email survey of 136 attorneys in private practice in Maryland was conducted from Feb. 24 through March 10. Respondents were asked seven questions designed to explore how they felt about the economic prospects of their practices as well as the overall economy.

The survey also produced an index to reflect the overall optimism, or pessimism, of respondents about those economic prospects.

On a scale of -100 to +100, with positive numbers reflecting optimism, survey responses produced an overall score of -1, putting them almost squarely in the middle of that range.

About 70 percent of the respondents work at a firm with five or fewer attorneys and about one-third of the attorneys surveyed practice in Baltimore.

Among the findings:

• 50 percent of respondents said they either strongly or somewhat agree that the overall state of the economy is good; 30 percent said they disagree either strongly or somewhat with that view.

• 34 percent said are likely to see an increase in billable hours in the next quarter; 27 percent said that would not be the case.

• 47 percent said they are likely to invest in new technology, as opposed to 28 percent who would not.

• 49 percent said their firm would invest or expand its marketing operations, while 28 percent said they would not.

• 46 percent of respondents said they don’t plan on investing in support staff; 23 percent said they are likely to do so.

• 46 percent said they won’t invest in infrastructure in the next quarter, compared to 18 percent who said they would.

• 54 percent said they don’t plan on hiring attorneys in the next three months while 32 percent said they do.

“The Daily Record’s Maryland Lawyers Confidence Index is designed to assess how attorneys in private practice view important economic indicators affecting their profession,” Daily Record Editor Thomas Baden Jr. said. “We plan on tracking these variables every quarter, which should provide a revealing snapshot of the economic headwinds facing private practitioners.”

While the Maryland Lawyers Confidence Index survey for the first quarter was skewed toward solo firms, the results regarding future investment plans are consistent with larger firms.

Efficient in technology

Some firms are trimming overhead positions such as secretaries and legal assistants. In turn, lawyers are becoming more efficient with technology, lessening demand for on-site support staff, said Randi Lewis, a recruiter with Major, Lindsey & Africa who specializes in recruiting and placing law firm partners and associates in the Baltimore market.

“There will always be need for support staff but not as many,” Lewis said.

On the flip side, firms are adding positions in accounting, marketing and IT, said Lewis, which is consistent with survey findings.

One Baltimore County attorney agreed.

“I haven’t seen the hesitance to hire people. It’s still a seller’s market if you’re a skilled support professional,” said Eliot Wagonheim, an attorney who frequently speaks to professional groups including accountants, lawyers and service-based businesses on marketing topics.

“I’ve seen much more investment in marketing and technology, particularly cloud-based (technology),” Wagonheim said.

Increased investment in marketing is a wake-up call for lawyers, who tend to be bad at marketing themselves, he said.

“Lawyers are just beginning to realize that law is a service business like every other service business.”

Demand for ‘portable practices’

In the past year, firms have been hiring more associates in corporate practices, real estate, finance, health care, regulatory and litigation practices including products liability and employment litigation, Lewis said, adding that corporate real estate and finance work in particular are on the uptick.

“Business litigation and bankruptcy practices in larger Baltimore firms appear to remain stagnant,” she said.

Lawyers with what Lewis calls “portable” practices, are in high demand, especially in Baltimore.

Those are attorneys who can join a firm at partner level and bring in their own business. Large firms in particular are looking to hire partners who have clients they can bring with them.

How the Maryland Lawyers Confidence Index was done

The confidential survey was emailed to The Daily Record master database of subscribers, who were asked if they were attorneys in private practice who did not work for a government agency or for a law school. Respondents who chose “yes” were taken to the survey of seven questions.

The survey was conducted from Feb. 24 through March 10 by Best Companies Group, an experienced market and consumer research company in central Pennsylvania that is owned by

The Daily Record’s parent company. The results were compiled by Best Companies.

An index score for each question and for the overall survey was calculated by taking the (total positive responses – negative responses)/total responses x 100.

Would you like to participate?

If you are an attorney in private practice in Maryland and would like to participate in the quarterly Maryland Lawyers Confidence Index survey, sign up here. Your name and your survey answers are confidential.

To purchase a reprint of this article, contact reprints@thedailyrecord.com.

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