Through the process of working with thousands of attorneys and law firms each year, BCG recruiters are able to gain a profound understanding of the legal market and insight into trends in demand for trained, lateral attorneys in the various practice areas. This article provides our perspective on the state of the American legal job market as we enter 2016.
Read the 2017 legal job market report here: The BCG Attorney Search 2017 State of the American Lateral Law Firm Legal Market Report
What Does “Employed” Mean? Law firms want to hire attorneys coming directly from law firms. If an attorney is not working, law firms generally do not care why and will not even consider that attorney. Law firms believe that there is something wrong with attorneys without jobs and generally believe they were fired. If an attorney was not fired, then the firms assume he or she quit and that is even worse because the firm feels it will always have to worry about the attorney quitting if the going gets tough. In general, it is extremely difficult for attorneys to get hired by top law firms if they are unemployed for any reason.
What Is a “Top Firm?” A good firm is a highly respected major national law firm, or a smaller law firm composed of attorneys from top law schools with major law firm experience. A good firm should generally have major national clients and high profits per partner. A good firm should be a firm that is considered difficult to get a job with. A top firm also means that the attorney is coming from a law firm and not from an in-house position, a government job, an accounting firm job or anything of that nature. The attorney must be coming from a law firm only. Law firms view other legal environments with skepticism because such environments lack the intensive training of law firms, generate inconsistent work quality and are generally perceived as places where weaker attorneys go to work. Anything other than a top law firm is completely undesirable.
What Are “Strong Qualifications?” Strong qualifications generally mean that an attorney went to a top 10 to 15 law school, or did very well at a lower ranked school. Local firms also hire out of local schools and do not require phenomenal law school performance.
What Are “Ties to the Area?” Law firms want to think that if they hire an attorney and allow that attorney to service their clients and become part of their team that the attorney is going to stay with them and not be tempted to leave. Law firms feel that attorneys who are not from the area will be likely to leave if the going gets tough. Law firms want the attorneys they hire to have families, spouses, and have grown up in the area—or have something strong tying them to the area.
Why the Bar Exam? Law firms want to hire attorneys who are ready to go and not have to worry about whether they will fail the bar exam or take weeks off to study. Firms in certain areas are more demanding about this requirement than others (New York, California, Florida) and firms in other areas are not as concerned with it (DC, Illinois). Nevertheless, having taken the bar exam shows law firms that an attorney is committed to a given area and likely to remain there.
What Does “Stable” Mean? Law firms do not want to hire people who are figuring it out. This means that an attorney is unsure about working in a law firm, unsure about whether he or she actually wants to be an attorney, unsure about his or her practice area—or is simply a job hopper. An attorney needs to have concrete and solid reasons for moving firms and law firms do not want to take a chance if it looks like the attorney will make a move again. Law firms want stability, because it is work for them to introduce new hires to clients, bring them up to speed on matters and more. Law firms are generally not interested in attorneys who do not look like they will be stable.
What Does “Interview Well” Mean? An attorney interviews well if the attorney is the sort of person that the firm would be comfortable leaving alone with a client and is the sort of person with whom other attorneys in the law firm will be comfortable. The attorney should have a personality that matches the firm culture as closely as possible.
Why One to Six Years of Experience? An attorney at this level is trained and still hungry enough to be a partner. An attorney is generally considered trained after the attorney has about one year of experience. The firm generally wants a culture where everyone is working hard and doing the best possible work to impress the partnership. This provides better work product and higher profits and is the way large law firms have always worked. Attorneys who do not care about making partner can negatively impact the culture of the firm and the work ethic of others around them. Attorneys with more than six years of experience who move firms are generally presumed not to have made it at their last firms and this is a liability. In addition, attorneys with more than six years of experience generally have billing rates approaching those of partners in their law firms. Partners make more money when they do the work themselves than when they give it to others. They generally keep a higher percentage of the fees for the work they do themselves than that which they give to others and the clients of partners generally want the partners to do the work. In addition, partners often prefer to give the work to attorneys in lower associate classes because they bill at lower rates and will thus save the clients’ money and make the partners look better.
What Does “Business” Mean? Business generally means about three times as much business as the attorney expects to get paid – but different law firms have differences in the amounts of business they require and the minimum they pay partners and others. If an attorney expects to make $500,000 a year, for example, that attorney is generally going to need at least $1.5-million in business and a billing rate for clients that is similar to the law firm the attorney seeks to join.
|Practice Area||Percentage of BCG’s 2015 Placements|
|IP Patent - General, Hard and Life Sciences||9.25%|
|Patent Agents/Technical Specialists||4.04%|
|IP / Technology Transactions||2.33%|
|Trusts and Estates||2.23%|
|Patent Agent - Life Sciences||2.21|
|ERISA / Employment Benefits||1.4%|
|IP / Trademark and Copyright||1.25%|
|Patent Agent - Hard Sciences||0.78%|
|Intellectual Property Other||0.47%|
|White Collar Crime||0.19%|
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