As the year draws to a close, reflecting on the ESI industry trends that have defined 2021 should illuminate what to expect from the e-discovery job market in 2022.
Since the onset of COVID-19, contract staffing has been the primary solution to headcount challenges throughout the data privacy, e-discovery, and cybersecurity ecosystem. According to the American Staffing Association, the average weekly number of temporary and contract workers employed by US staffing firms rose 15.2% year over year in the third quarter of 2021 to 2.7 million.
The normalization and rapid rise of contract talent augmentation shifted in Q2 – going from a response to uncertainty, to a reflection of unpopular return-to-office mandates and vaccination policies.
In 2021, TRU staffed an almost equal number of contract and direct-hire ESI project managers, analysts, and forensic examiners. We expect the increased reliance on contract talent to continue indefinitely as many employers and employees alike find reasons to prefer the contract lifestyle.
We also expect a meaningful number of contractors to get offers for direct-hire conversion throughout the first quarter of 2022, as was the case with holiday hires in early 2021 getting conversion opportunities.
In 2021, the job market favored candidates. In 2022, that will not change.
In April 2021, TRU published “Why Now is the Best Time in 20 Years to Make a Job Move in e-Discovery.” By May, TRU calculated an average 22% increase in base compensation for ESI middle-market professionals changing jobs in Q1. These figures stayed relatively consistent throughout the rest of 2021.
Demand for project managers and analysts even increased in Q3 and Q4, and with that many jobs open, once they are filled, there will undoubtedly be that many more jobs open again. Why? No one is out of work in ESI anymore, so when jobs are filled, they are generally filled with gainfully employed professionals who leave behind a new opening.
The No. 1 trend TRU predicted in January’s “Top 10 Job Market Predictions in Legal Technology” has become prominent to the point of hyperbole: Speed Wins War for Talent.
The widespread adoption of virtual interviews has accelerated the hiring process. By November of 2021, 100% of first-round interviews scheduled through TRU were virtual, and 92% of all subsequent interviews (regardless of rank of hire) were virtual. It no longer takes months to staff – it takes days or weeks. For direct-hire, middle-market professionals, the timeline from submission of resume to offer acceptance is a lightning-fast 8 business days. It is a mere 72 hours for contractors in the same roles. Even for executives, including ESI sales pros, the cycle is three to six weeks.
With Zoom, Teams, and the like here to stay and no end to the demand for e-discovery professionals in sight, this may be the most important and prominent trend continuing into the new year.