Association of Certified E-Discovery Specialists (ACEDS)

While August largely remained a candidate’s job market, important new trends are emerging related to the war for talent in the e-discovery job market!  

First, mid-market candidates (i.e., project managers, coordinators, litigation support analysts and specialists, review managers, and legal analytics professionals) are now turning down jobs without necessarily taking another job because they are holding out for more compensation. The current ceiling for most ESI vendors for a new project manager hire is around 115K to 125K base compensation annually. Vendors moving the needle up to 135K to 145K for seasoned project managers are winning, especially as candidates often see working for a $100M/year or more service provider (or division at a consulting firm) somewhat similar in job or client demand and expectation.

But beware: this does not mean every candidate should expect a large increase in base compensation when moving jobs. e-Discovery employers have begun holding the line to manage profitability and internal equity and are now becoming more comfortable letting candidates who expect too much from base compensation decline offers. This is frustrating for employers, and some will level up salary to win, but the vendor employer market is attempting to shift the focus to more well-rounded offers that include elements of training and education, vertical mobility potential, cultural symmetry, increased diversity and inclusion, work-from-home flexibility, and individual or company brand recalibration in the post-COVID hiring frenzy.

Law firms appear to have no problem throwing a little more money at talent to tip the scale and often offer additional perks like “paid overtime” to attract mid-level ESI talent at the specialist, coordinator, and analyst level. However, law firms—unlike vendors—are increasingly forcing a return to office, some with vaccine mandates. Candidates in ESI are largely more interested in remote WFH flexibility than they are that extra $10K–15K in earning potential if it means commuting in five days a week or even maybe commuting five days in the next year and beyond since policies remain open to change at any time. That uncertainty is stopping them from accepting and/or exploring jobs more frequently than most law firm hiring managers are aware of or want to believe.

Interestingly, there is an abundance of passive job-seeking talent and a seeming drought of opportunity at the upper and executive levels in e-discovery. In comparison to the attrition and turnover at the $80K–150K salary band range for talent in the space (which we estimate to be at or above 30% attrition in 2021 for most law firm litigation support departments and vendors), e-discovery professionals commanding $225K to $300K in base compensation are struggling to find what is next for them when things outside of professional ambition and vertical growth, like vaccination, return-to-office, and WFH policies, are motivators for considering changing employers and inhibitors for winning the war for talent in the industry right now. Many are looking for ways to parlay their ESI experience into data privacy, security, governance, legal ops, and other tertiary disciplines. Many are having success, but many are also realizing that any interdisciplinary career shift often warrants compensation shifts and a few steps back to take many steps forward.

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