You are currently viewing TRU Trends April 2022: ESI FOMO |  Association of Certified Electronic Discovery Specialists (ACEDS)

TRU Trends April 2022: ESI FOMO | Association of Certified Electronic Discovery Specialists (ACEDS)

The window is closing for ESI project managers to take advantage of the hottest job market for 20 years

Experienced eDiscovery professionals, such as project managers, analysts, and generally litigation support professionals, are currently at the top of the world. This industry demographic can currently select new job openings from an abundance of available opportunities and, as part of that hiring process, command unprecedented top-notch salaries.

However, as with all things in life, what goes up must come down. Or in this case, level up. In 2021, the average ESI base salary increase at hire for these mid-market professionals was 22%. In the first quarter of 2022, this figure has increased to almost 30%. This amazing trend is unsustainable and potentially destabilizing for the larger eDiscovery ecosystem. It is also a signal for those still hungry for financial mobility that the window of opportunity to take advantage of the hottest ESI job market in 20 years is closing.

High expectations = higher salaries = higher costs for everyone (well, almost everyone…)

What these salaries ultimately mean for the end customer is that prices go up for hourly billed eDiscovery services. The cost of hiring talent has risen too much not to incentivize vendors and law firm litigation support departments to raise their prices if they intend to continue providing the high caliber service necessary to meet customer demands. And customer demands are also increasing – in terms of the quality, caliber and volume of talent needed.

However, a resolute population of ISE recruiters will not succumb to inflation and have no intention of passing on rising labor costs to their clients; instead, these hiring managers will adopt much longer hiring cycles in favor of less experienced (or severely underpaid) talent who fall within the industry’s pre-pandemic compensation ranges.

The problem facing these hiring managers, most of whom work in law firms and corporations, is that in addition to toeing the line on compensation caps, they also require talent to come into an office. This requirement compounds the length of the search process as two out of three ESI active job seekers are looking for either a completely virtual job or full control over when they walk into an office. Back-to-work and vaccination mandates are the number one reason job seekers abandon ESI opportunities. In recent weeks, law firms seem more willing to bow to the vax mandate than to return to the office. Candidates – not so much.

Company vs supplier: the pay and quality of life gap is closing

Law firms are hiring fewer middle-market ESI professionals into full-time jobs than providers at a rate of nearly 1:8, but when they do, they tend to hire from the more experienced side of the business. talent spectrum. This subset of talent within law firms, often referred to as “senior project managers (PMs)” or “ESI consultants”, tend to be direct competitors to outside vendors and as a result firms compete the same talent pool as suppliers. Ten or even five years ago, the talents of Senior PM law firms often surpassed their vendor counterparts in terms of experience, compensation, prestige and authority with client companies. No more. Post-pandemic, vendors rise to meet law firm compensation, or come very close to it, making money (and client prestige and membership) less of a reason to accept jobs in law firms.

A quickly fading selling point for law firm hiring managers is, “But we pay overtime, so you’ll earn more here!” For some this is exciting, but for most ESI job seekers it signals an extremely low quality of life when the value is placed on time rather than results. “They want me to work harder, not smarter – and they want me to do it in the office,” said one candidate, comparing a particular supplier role to a law firm role with a similar base salary. “Yeah, I’ll make $20,000 more at the firm, but I probably won’t see my kids as much.” Moreover, for the job seeker attracted by paid overtime, the wealth of short- and long-term ESI contract opportunities for professionals in this category is vast, and probably just as lucrative (and much less restrictive on mastery of his time) than a full -hour position. The combination of vendor adoption of using contracted and remote resources narrows the quality of life gap between employer, law firm, and vendor categories.

A solution: Shut up, don’t hunt

There is an urgent need to temper the situation of wage inflation by restructuring the functioning of the eDiscovery industry. CSE programs should take into account diversify e-discovery staffing practices adding an “agricultural layer” to a group’s hiring practices. Agricultural systems are essential in e-discovery. A farming system is a program that hires high quality people for roles they have not yet mastered and trains/mentors them over a period of months to become billable resources at lower cost. This group includes recent law school graduates or industry players such as law enforcement, who have peripheral knowledge of eDiscovery methods, especially forensics; paralegals; or just smart people looking for a career change.

Currently, TRU Staffing Partners only has a handful of clients bringing in talent with little or no e-discovery experience. The total percentage of entry-level job orders TRU has received in the last 15 months in eDiscovery is less than 2% of our job pool. Everyone wants higher caliber ESI PMs who have specific domain expertise and can walk through the door and produce billable hours immediately. If the only thing an organization is doing is bringing in people in the upper middle bracket, it will continue to pay more inflated rates for those people and eventually pass that cost on to its customers.

The final window is now

For ESI Project Managers who haven’t changed roles in the past 24 months (or made the wrong job change) and have FOMO about a big career change in terms of liability and compensation, TRU estimates that you still have two to three months to hit the market before most of the remaining opportunities have been open for months…those that require you to start working and/or pay $20-30 % less than the rest of their competitors.

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