The legal market, like most markets, is cyclical in nature, both at the macro and micro levels. Overall hiring trends in terms of the number of lateral job listings, the number of newly graduated attorneys who find gainful (and law degree-required) employment, and the number of firms who maintain or increase their revenues tends to follow the broader market. Similarly, activity in particular practice areas tends to follow trends in the market related to the client base that practice area services.
A very obvious example is real estate, which completely tanked following the overall market crash that was in large part precipitated by a crash in housing prices and the related mortgages and security instruments that had been fueling the initial bubble. Not only were law firms not hiring in the real estate sector, many firms were rescinding associate offers, pushing associates into other practice areas, and laying off attorneys who had otherwise been very productive up to that point.
Fast forward a couple years later, and now that the market has recovered and real estate development is booming once again, particularly in major metropolitan areas, junior and mid-level attorneys with solid real estate experience are heavily in demand, and will frequently have a choice of firms to consider when making a lateral move.
When I graduated law school in 2007, I was the fortunate beneficiary of the tail end of the salary wars, where firms raised salary levels numerous times, even within months of prior announcements, because the overall market was doing so well that law firms were competing with hedge funds for the top law school graduate talent. To my surprise and delight, I actually received two “raises” to my starting compensation between the time I accepted my offer letter and my first day of actual work at my firm. Then, of course, things began to come apart the next year, and due to the hiring trends and rising salaries, law school applications had continued to increase until there was a huge surplus of newly-minted attorneys and a sudden lack of jobs when law firms started laying off rather than hiring.
Anyone who has paid attention to the legal market the past few years is familiar with the doom-and-gloom articles that pervaded legal publications, such as the article finding that less than half of newly-graduated attorneys were able to find employment in a position that required a legal degree, and the numerous articles about contract attorneys struggling to pay off massive six-figure student loan debts.
As is always the case, however, things do eventually come back around, and we have been very encouraged to see lateral hiring picking up across the board. Current and would-be law students should also be encouraged by recent trends. It has been a buyers’ market for a long time, but recent numbers released by the American Bar Association show that the fall 2014 entering law school class is the smallest in 40 years, even though the number of law schools has actually increased over that time. In practical terms, that means that the shift of supply and demand means that we can optimistically project hiring at the entry-, junior-, and mid-level will continue to increase over the next couple years, barring any unforeseen major economic events.
If you are looking to make a lateral move, or to re-enter the market, now is an excellent time to begin positioning yourself to be the strongest possible lateral candidate, and our BCG recruiters are happy to discuss your current and future prospects with you, so please get in touch!
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