Summary: Are you thinking about looking for a new job as an attorney? Find out when you should start in this article.
Attorneys end leases, sell homes, wait for bonuses, forgo bonuses and make all sorts of other decisions based on the timing of when they will find and land a new position. On the other hand, you may want to time your job search so that you can have the best chance of finding a job. There are a couple of ways to answer this question, so I will provide you the information you are seeking first - but then will provide you some important caveats to make you think about how to time your job search.
The Busiest Hiring Time for Large Law Firms Is February to Mid-April.
For as long as I have been doing this—and I have been doing this a long time, I have consistently seen that these are the busiest hiring months. In fact, they tend to be the most active hiring months for law firms and always have been. There tends to be about twice as much hiring in these months than in other months of the year. If you are looking for a position, you should certainly be aware that there is going to be more hiring in these months than at other times. While I have no way of knowing exactly why this is so, I believe that hiring is busiest during these months for the following reasons.
First, law firms get new hiring budgets in the month of January, and a lot of their planning for hiring and firing takes place in November through December, and they start soliciting for new attorneys in January. Also, due to the timing of Christmas bonuses, many lawyers start leaving their firms and looking for new positions in early January.
Hiring is never a fast process, and law firms start interviewing people in the first few weeks of January and start extending offers and having them accepted from February to the middle of April. The "peak" of offers and acceptances is typically in the month of February and then it slows down significantly in the middle of April.
The reason law firm hiring slows down is likely for a few reasons. First, law firms are a bit "cautious" about new hiring until the "wave" of new hires is integrated into the law firms. More importantly, almost all large law firms have a significant number of summer associates that start in the late spring to early summer. Law firm recruiters become occupied with planning for the law students to start and their efforts are directed there instead. Unless they have pressing needs, law firms are less likely to bring people in for interviews during this time of year. Also, during the summer months, people start traveling more and being in the office less, and this also has an impact on the hiring that law firms are doing.
Historically, this has been the busiest hiring time of the year.
The Second Busiest Hiring Time Is Mid to Late August to Late-October.
Late August to mid-October is the second busiest hiring time of the year. During these months, law firms and their recruiting staff have more time to turn to lateral hiring because they are not dealing with summer associate programs.
The interviewing tends to start in force in law firms in late August and then slows down quite dramatically mid-October.
The idea of timing your job search based on the busiest hiring months does not make a lot of sense. In fact, we make placements every week of the year – and in some years have made placements every single business day throughout the year. Every year is different, and every market is different.
Law firms also have time to "settle" after the spurt of hiring in the first few months of the year and evaluate their hiring needs. They see that there may be some "holes" in their existing staffing and work to fix these holes. Many law firms and recruiting staff also have budgets for hiring and "use it or lose it" policies that force them to use these budgets before the end of the year. Accordingly, a good deal of hiring tends to occur in these months.
The hiring and interviewing slows down quite a bit in late October. There is not a lot of hiring activity in November or December and these months are historically quite slow. During these months, like the summer months, people tend to be out of the office more and more (traveling for holidays) and law firms tend not to do as much interviewing and hiring. Also, many law firms start evaluating their hiring needs for the following year and put a lot of their hiring on hold. Finally, law firm budgets are often exhausted in these months, and due to this law firms do not do a lot of lateral hiring.
Factors Other Than the Busiest Months That Will Determine Your Likelihood to Get a Job.
Your ability to get a position in a major law firm is also dependent on numerous factors that are not controlled by searching during the "busiest hiring months" of the year. These are some of the factors that have an impact on whether a firm is hiring that have nothing to do with the busiest hiring months:
How Your Qualifications Compare to Other Attorneys Looking for Positions. Attorneys without "top notch" qualifications tend to have the most luck and be the most successful searching for jobs in months when not a lot of people are competing for the same positions. The worst time to look for an attorney job is when everyone else is and hiring is the busiest: You will be competing with a huge market of people. Everyone wants to look for a position in early January after they receive a bonus. If you are looking for a new job during these months, you will find yourself in competition with every other attorney in the market also searching.
Ask yourself: Do you have better qualifications than every other attorney searching for a position at the same time as you? You might have better qualifications, and if you do then maybe you shouldn't wait. However, the smart move—if you think through the issue carefully—is to look for a position when other people are not. If you are looking when other people are not, your odds of getting hired are much better.
The Amount of Work the Firm Has in a Given Practice Area. At various points in time, certain practice areas get very busy, and law firms go crazy trying to get bodies to do the work.
It happens in corporate when the economy is doing well.
It happens in bankruptcy when the economy is doing poorly.
It happens in litigation when a firm gets a big case, or, for example when the economy slows and people start filing more litigation to recover money they believe they lost when the economy was doing well.
It happens in healthcare when there is new legislation.
It happens in trademark when lots of new businesses start.
It happens in employment when the economy is poor and companies start letting people go, and people start suing.
It happens in real estate when interest rates are low and people start refinancing and buying and selling more properties.
I could drone on and on about each practice area. The fact is that you just do not know when a practice area is going to get busy, and lots of hiring will occur. If a practice area gets busy, the law firm is likely to start hiring and bringing in people, and it does not matter what time of year it is. When there is work to do, and law firms need to do it, they will hire people to do it. If the law firm has work to do and clients willing to pay to have the work done, the law firm will be losing money if the work is not done. If the law firm is losing money, the law firm will bring people in to do it.
Whether or Not Key People Have Recently Left or Been Let Go. People leave law firms and are fired all the time. When this occurs law firms will hire people and always have. You cannot control this and if you are not looking you may, or may not, find a position when it gets busy. In a major city, there are always plenty of opportunities in firms that may have suffered various defections and where people have left. Groups leave, individual attorneys leave (and are fired) at all times of the year. There are not formal "timing" issues of when this occurs, because it is happening all the time. When law firms start hiring quickly and if it is not a "prime hiring season" when lots of people are in the market and looking for positions, your odds of getting hired then increase substantially. It is always smart to be looking for a job when firms are desperate and need people immediately. Their guard is down. You cannot find these sorts of positions if you wait around for the best openings.
Whether the Law Firm Is on a Hiring Spree. Some law firms in various areas of the country are simply in "growth mode" and hiring aggressively. It does not matter what time of year it is; the law firm may be growing. They may have a new business model, be setting up a new office, who knows. Regardless, some law firms are hiring like crazy. It is common, for example, for national law firms that start up in new cities to go on hiring sprees for months, or even years. These hiring sprees will occur irrespective of the time of year.
The Economy in the Region of the Country the Firm Is in. Some areas of the United States are growing more than others. This has occurred periodically in places like the Bay Area when this market is undergoing an aggressive economic expansion. There is no "busy season" for many of these law firms in the Bay Area, and they are constantly hiring to keep up with the economic expansion occurring in this region of the United States. New York, Texas and most large markets go on economic tears from time to time and start hiring every warm body they can find. When this occurs, the best thing you can do is be in the market. Regions can slow down quickly, and the slowdown in hiring is often dramatic and sudden - almost like musical chairs. In 2000, for example, the market was excellent. The market literally "stopped" almost dead in its tracks in the third week of November in that year when the "dot com boom" came to a sudden halt. This is how markets work. They simply stop. When this happens you had better be in the right place.
Your Qualifications. If you have experience in a very niche and in-demand practice area, have outstanding qualifications that make you stand out and would make most law firms want to hire you, you often may not need to worry too much about timing issues. You may be marketable at most times of the year. This is especially so for attorneys attempting to relocate from one area of the country to another.
Your Class Year and Amount of Experience and Regional Fluctuations. In a normal market, to be marketable to major law firms attorneys need to have less than six years of experience. If the attorney has more than six years of experience, they are expected to have a book of business. This has been the rule forever in the lateral hiring market for major law firms. However, in a good market these rules may not apply: More senior attorneys may be marketable. This can be regional and it is unusual.
At the present moment senior ERISA attorneys are marketable in most areas of the United States (even with twenty years of experience)—but one year ago they were not.
Senior litigators are very marketable in Orange County, California for some reason, but in other areas of the country they are not.
Senior bankruptcy attorneys are very marketable in New York City, but in other areas of the United States they are not.
Senior real estate attorneys are very marketable in Los Angeles, but in other areas of the country they are not.
These regional fluctuations cannot be predicted with any certainty—and they occur all of a sudden. You cannot win in the job search game by trying to search only in the busiest months of the year, because you never know when the market will change – the market can change quickly and it always does.
The Only Sound Policy Is to Search Every Month of the Year and Not Try and Time Your Search for the Busiest Months.
The idea of timing your job search based on the busiest hiring months does not make a lot of sense. In fact, we make placements every week of the year – and in some years have made placements every single business day throughout the year. Every year is different and every market is different.
For reasons that do not make a lot of sense—the last two weeks of June this year saw us make more placements than any month in the past several years. What this means is that all of the "general" rules about when you should look for a position simply do not apply. The only way to do a proper job search is to start your search immediately and not delay. If you delay your job search, all you will do is potentially miss out on a good opportunity. You simply have no control over what is happening in the legal market economically and at the firm level. The only way to find the best law firm for you where you are most likely to be happy is by doing your search constantly.
What is so problematical about trying to time your job search based on "prime hiring months" is that you never can predict what will happen with each firm you speak with. You may find the perfect firm early on, or this may happen later for you. In some cases, attorneys may need to look for a position for months, or even years, until they find a place that they are comfortable calling home. Each search is different, of course, but success in your job search does not always come instantly.
A job search is complex. While there are certain months that are better than others for job searching, you should never try and time your search. As a legal placement firm, we stick with the attorneys we work with and update them on new openings on a constant and ongoing basis. We have found that the best way for attorneys to serve themselves in the market is by being aware of openings at all times and not trying to time the market based on the historically most active hiring seasons.
Share Your Thoughts
What are 3 tips you would offer to fellow attorneys to be successful in their job search?
What do you think are the best months of the year to search and apply for attorney jobs?
What do you think are the worst months of the year to search and apply for attorney jobs?