Salaries have not returned to pre-recession levels, according to a new Robert Half Legal survey on hiring, but many firms are willing to increase salaries to attract the right legal talent.

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Better benefits, flexible scheduling, telecommuting and subsidized training are also being thrown into the mix by many law offices to appeal to top prospects, the study of 200 attorneys in the nation’s largest law firms and corporations found.

More than half of the attorneys surveyed said it is challenging to find skilled legal professionals today. Top candidates who have specialized skill sets, a stable work history, technology expertise and interpersonal skills and who meet the requirements of the position often receive multiple offers as well as counteroffers.

Law firms are looking to hire attorneys with three to seven years’ experience in high-growth areas who are able to assume full caseloads, bring in clients and target new business prospects. In particular, according to the survey, firms are searching for senior-level lawyers “with portable books of business or consulting backgrounds.”

The practice area most in demand is litigation, with 38 percent of respondents saying their firm will offer the greatest number of job opportunities in that area in the next two years.

Specialties next highest in demand are general business/commercial law, 19 percent; healthcare, 6 percent; intellectual property, 6 percent; personal/family law, 5 percent; and labor/employment law, 4 percent.

Corporate legal departments, on the other hand, are looking for attorneys with strong backgrounds in compliance, corporate transactional law and contract administration to keep up with the demands of government regulatory compliance.

Internal corporate teams are being expanded to handle more matters in-house to save on outside legal fees. They are looking for attorneys with previous law firm experience and knowledge of their business sector. Hiring of new law school graduates has increased only slightly.

As demand for top candidates has increased, so have retention fears as law firms and corporate offices work to avoid losing their top talent to competing firms.

Half of the lawyers responding to the survey said increased compensation and bonuses is the best retention incentive. Assigning challenging work and a variety of assignments is seen by 20 percent as a strong retention incentive. Flexible work arrangements (12 percent) and professional development opportunities (11 percent) were also named as helping with retention.

Both corporate legal offices and law firms are engaging legal staff on a project basis for matters involving eDiscovery, compliance and large-scale litigation, the report said. To assist with business growth opportunities, many legal offices are also looking for patent attorneys with an undergraduate or master’s degree in science-related disciplines, as well lawyers who also hold an MBA.