Recent law school graduates are faring better than the graduating class since the recession nearly a decade ago.
While the recovery might not be felt at mid-sized firms, large firms with at least 500 lawyers increased their hiring by 6 percent from the entering class of 2016. That’s about 231 more hires from the class of 2016 (about 25% of law firm jobs) than from the class of 2015 (about 23% of law firm jobs). On the other hand, judicial clerkships, public interest positions, and government attorneys remained more stable, consistently accounting for 26-29% of legal jobs over the past three decades.
Some attribute this increase from the steadily increasing demand since 2011. Particularly after the recession, law firms are projecting a need of more associates in the coming years. Anticipating the need for filling the ranks means addressing the appetite for new lawyers, sparking competition for recruiting the best associates from fewer law graduates competing for those jobs. Growing markets such as Houston, Charlotte, Atlanta, and Seattle are also contributing to the overall growth.
Nothing is close to the glorious pre-recession days, however, and many recruiters expect that this growth will probably plateau for the coming year which may result in fewer candidates in the
pipeline for full-time associate positions from the class of 2018 and onward. Most do not expect that large firm hiring will ever recover to pre-recession levels. Changing client demands, increased associate expectations, and increasing technological efficiencies are likely to make this so.
This climb in hiring combined with the recent administrative and political changes and technological and industry shifts continue to influence certain practice areas. These are the practice areas that will still remain hot:
Cybersecurity and Data Privacy
Major companies, banks, governments, law firms—especially in light of several digital intrusions this past summer—have prioritized digital security. Attorneys that have built their expertise in this area are being turned to and poached by the in-house market, and this trend will likely continue to grow.
A traditionally steady practice, this area saw tremendous growth under the Obama Administration’s legislative and regulatory. In light of the Trump Administration’s bold moves, efforts of opposition are underway. For lawyers, this means an increased demand in regulatory and compliance practice areas for this administration and beyond.
Speaking of changes, medical research, medicare fraud, and ACA compliance resulted in increased demand for in-house attorneys. The promise for sweeping changes will result in even more demand in this specialty. With an aging global population and rapid technological advancement, this practice area will remain hot for decades to come, especially if combined with another area of expertise.
Technology has advanced in virtually every area of our lives, which means that the demand for legal services and expertise in patent prosecution will continue to grow. This shouldn’t be shocking, since IP has been “hot” for a while now. In addition to patent prosecution, expertise in IP regimes in foreign nations and trademarks will also be heating up.
Business and Corporate Law
While not necessarily the hottest, the strengthening economy means a steady demand for corporate attorneys that add value to transactions and understand regulatory compliance. Changes in regulations to the banking and finance sectors will likely drive financial services companies to build out their banking practices in anticipation of market growth, and therefore hire more in-house attorneys with related finance expertise.