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March 5, 2010 11:58 AM

Green Shoots? Legal Sector Loses Just 100 Jobs in February

Posted by Ross Todd

Unemployment in the U.S. was flat in February, according to the latest employment report released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The unemployment rate held at 9.7 percent, the report states, and the U.S. economy shed 36,000 jobs last month. The losses are significant, but as this report in The New York Times notes, they are fewer than expected and not nearly as severe as "the monthly losses of more than 650,000 jobs a year ago." The highest number of jobs lost over the past two years on record with BLS is 779,000 in January 2009.

The news for the legal services sector is one of the more hopeful signs of late. Only 100 jobs were lost in the legal sector in February, the second month in a row that has seen a substantial drop-off in job losses. According to seasonally adjusted BLS data, the legal sector lost 1,100 jobs in January compared to 2,100 in December, 2,900 in November, and 5,800 in October. Since February of last year, the sector has shed 37,100 positions.

Still, challenges remain for large law firms, as we recently reported. According to the 2010 Client Advisory released earlier this week by the consultants at Hildebrandt Baker Robbins and the Citi Private Bank division of Citigroup, Inc., 2009 was a terrible year for law firms, and, in some respects, "the worst year for the legal market in at least the past half-century." Looking ahead, the report predicts that law firm leaders must remain focused on further cutting costs, particularly those that "until now have been spared."

The Times report says many economists see February's employment/jobs numbers as a sign of improvement. Interestingly, severe weather in many parts of the country in February might have had some effect on the data. Heavy snowstorms likely kept job seekers at home, suggesting that the unemployment numbers might have been even better under different weather conditions, the Times reports.

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