Nearly a third of lawyers plan to make new hires in the first quarter of 2012, according to a quarterly hiring survey by legal staffing firm Robert Half Legal.

Thirty-one percent of lawyers said they plan to add legal jobs in the first three months of the year — up from the 25 percent who projected hiring in the fourth quarter of 2011. Law firms are expected to do the majority of the hiring, and the strongest areas of growth are likely to be in bankruptcy and foreclosure, litigation and labor and employment.

The survey interviewed 200 lawyers nationwide — 100 lawyers at law firms with at least 20 employees, and 100 corporate lawyers at companies with at least 1,000 employees — and the hiring outlook in the Washington region mirrors nationwide findings, said Jonathan Witmer, Robert Half Legal’s metro market manager for the District and Baltimore.

“A majority of the lawyers we surveyed nationally and here in D.C. are feeling good about hiring,” he said. “Firms are being smarter about how and when they add personnel.”

Law firms and in-house counsel in the region also are using more contract and temporary lawyers “that can get work done and be off the books until the next time the workload spikes,” Witmer said.

Law firms continue to focus on hiring senior and partner-level lawyers with books of business and expertise in high-demand practice areas, said Robert Half Legal executive director Charles Volkert. He added that corporations also are hiring more legal staff in an ongoing effort to bring more work in-house and reduce outside legal spending. “General counsel are handling more matters internally in areas such as corporate transactional, labor and employment, intellectual property, litigation and regulatory law,” Volkert said.

Arent Fox expands health care group with hire
Edward J. Dougherty, a former vice president of the lobbying arm of Baker & Daniels, has joined Arent Fox as a senior health policy adviser in the firm’s Washington office.

Dougherty previously was a consultant at B&D Consulting, the Indiana law firm’s lobbying group. He will counsel pharmaceutical, biotech and medical device companies in reimbursement strategies for products and technologies, Arent Fox announced in December.