Lateral Hiring on the Rise Again After Two Years of Decline

NALP Bulletin, April 2011

After 2009, a year in which many law firms did no lateral hiring, lateral hiring rebounded by 38% in 2010. That is the overall finding of NALP's 2010 "Survey of Legal Employers on Fall Recruiting and Associate Deferrals," which requested information on lateral hiring in 2009 and 2010. The results shown in the table accompanying this article are based on reports from 284 law offices that reported at least one lateral hire in one of the two years. The table includes cities with at least five offices reporting office-specific information and collectively reporting at least 20 lateral hires in 2010.

  • Overall, based on aggregate hiring of not quite 2,300 lateral lawyers in 2010, the volume of hiring was up by 38% compared with 2009, with a median of 4 and an average of 8 lateral hires. Most of the increase, however, is attributable to lateral associate hiring, which was up by 61%. In contrast, the volume of lateral partner hiring increased by just over 8%. As it has in the past, the volume of lateral associate hiring outstrips that of lateral partner hiring. In 2010, lateral associates accounted for two-thirds of the lateral hiring reported.

  • As the table shows, however, changes in aggregate hiring, and the level of hiring, measured by either the median or average number of hires, varied considerably by firm size and geography. For example, for firms reporting their lateral hiring on a firm-wide basis (in the section of the table labeled "Firm-wide Reports"), lateral hiring as measured by medians was strongest in the Midwest, at 9.5, but the aggregate increase was greatest in the West/Rocky Mountain region. (Regional figures in this section of the table reflect firms reporting firm-wide information but whose offices are wholly or predominantly in one region.)

  • Among offices reporting activity for a single office, offices averaged 1 or 2 lateral partner hires and 3 or 4 lateral associate hires, figures which varied somewhat, but not a great deal, by overall size of the firm.

  • On a regional basis, the level of lateral hiring was highest in the Northeast, with a median of 5 and an average of 7.5 lateral hires in 2010, and lowest in the Southeast. In terms of aggregate volumes, however, the increase was greatest by far for offices in the West/Rocky Mountain region, where volume was up by 168%. Hefty increases also occurred in each of the four markets listed in this region. Not all areas saw such growth, and in a few areas - Minneapolis, Washington, DC, and the Mid-Atlantic region as a whole - the volume of lateral partner hiring decreased. The overall volume of lateral hiring was nearly flat in Washington, DC. Atlanta and Houston contrast notably with the Southeast region as a whole, both in terms of the level of hiring, averaging about 6 per office, compared with 3 for the region as a whole, and changes in aggregate volume.

  • Despite the overall increase, of course, not every office or firm increased lateral hiring. In fact, fully one-quarter of respondents reported a decrease of 10% or more, and about 14% reported that the volume of lateral hiring changed by less than 10%. The last column in the table shows that over half of offices increased their volume of lateral hiring by 50% or more. Offices in Atlanta, Houston, and in the West/Rocky Mountain region were most likely to have done so, while offices in Washington, DC and the Midwest were least likely to have increased hiring by this amount.

This year's survey results document a turnaround in lateral hiring after two years of decline, as measured by this survey in previous years. Survey results, of course, reflect the respondent pool. Nonetheless, to the extent that the survey pool is relatively consistent with respect to firm size and location, this survey shows the largest increase in volume in the last eight years, a finding that is tempered by the fact that lateral hiring plummeted in 2009, and about 20% of offices did no lateral hiring that year. Before declining about 26% from 2007 to 2008, and then 52% from 2008 to 2009, the survey had documented five years of aggregate increases; 18% from 2002-2003; 15% from 2003-2004; 19% from 2004-2005; 8% from 2005-2006; and 11% from 2006-2007. (See previous years' results here.)

Lateral Hiring in 2010 and Comparison with 2009

  # of Offices Reporting PARTNERS ASSOCIATES TOTAL % of Offices with Increase of 50% or More
Median # Hired in 2010 Average # Hired in 2010 % Change in # Hired 2009-2010 Median # Hired in 2010 Average # Hired in 2010 % Change in # Hired 2009-2010 Median # Hired in 2010 Average # Hired in 2010 % Change in # Hired 2009-2010
Overall Total 284 1.0 2.7 8.4% 3.0 5.3 61.1 4.0 8.0 38.4% 52.8%
FIRM-WIDE REPORTS
All firm-wide reports 78 3.0 6.2 3.9 6.0 10.8 37.3 10.5 16.9 22.9 46.2
By # of lawyers firm-wide
100 or fewer 9 0.0 0.9 166.7 2.0 2.1 5.6 2.0 3.0 28.6 44.4
101-250 34 2.0 2.9 -6.5 4.0 5.3 24.0 7.0 8.3 11.1 47.1
251-500 16 7.5 6.9 0.0 10.0 13.4 49.3 15.0 20.4 27.8 56.3
501+ 19 10.0 13.8 8.3 21.0 22.4 39.8 31.0 36.2 25.8 36.8
By NALP region
Northeast 6 1.0 3.0 28.6 4.0 7.5 18.4 6.0 10.5 21.2 66.7
Mid-Atlantic 10 1.0 5.4 -35.7 5.5 9.9 10.0 6.5 15.3 -12.1 30.0
Southeast 12 2.0 5.0 62.2 3.5 6.5 34.5 7.5 11.5 45.3 66.7
Midwest 20 3.5 6.0 13.3 4.5 6.7 15.7 9.5 12.6 14.5 40.0
West/Rocky Mtn 10 2.5 5.5 44.7 2.0 8.1 68.8 4.5 13.6 58.1 50.0
OFFICE-SPECIFIC REPORTS
All office-specific reports 206 1.0 1.4 16.9 2.0 3.2 106.2 4.0 4.6 67.9 55.3
By # of lawyers firm-wide
100 or fewer 29 0.0 0.6 -26.1 2.0 3.0 168.8 3.0 3.6 87.3 55.2
101-250 19 1.0 1.3 4.2 2.0 3.1 132.0 4.0 4.4 69.4 47.4
251-500 37 1.0 1.6 41.5 2.0 3.1 54.1 4.0 4.6 49.6 56.8
501+ 121 1.0 1.5 18.7 2.0 3.4 112.4 4.0 4.9 70.7 56.2
By NALP region and city or state
Northeast 31 2.0 2.3 20.3 3.0 5.2 80.0 5.0 7.5 56.4 54.8
Boston 7 1.0 1.9 30.0 2.0 2.1 0.0 5.0 4.0 12.0 57.1
New York City 18 2.5 3.1 24.4 6.5 7.7 97.1 8.5 10.8 68.7 55.6
Mid-Atlantic 42 1.0 1.3 -30.8 3.0 4.0 88.6 4.0 5.2 32.5 52.4
Washington, DC/Northern VA 27 1.0 1.5 -38.8 3.0 3.7 38.4 5.0 5.3 1.4 40.7
Southeast 43 1.0 0.9 35.7 2.0 2.5 81.4 2.0 3.4 66.7 55.8
Atlanta 7 1.0 0.7 0.0 6.0 4.9 161.5 7.0 5.6 200.0 100.0
Houston 5 2.0 2.0 66.7 2.0 3.6 157.1 6.0 5.6 115.4 80.0
North Carolina 7 1.0 1.0 16.7 2.0 2.3 128.6 2.0 3.3 76.9 57.1
Midwest 35 1.0 1.3 18.9 2.0 2.1 92.1 3.0 3.3 56.0 42.9
Chicago 12 1.0 2.1 13.6 2.0 2.2 116.7 3.5 4.3 50.0 41.7
Minneapolis 8 0.0 0.3 -71.4 1.0 2.8 144.4 1.0 3.0 50.0 37.5
West/Rocky Mtn 55 1.0 1.4 87.8 2.0 2.9 226.5 4.0 4.3 163.3 65.5
Los Angeles and Orange County 18 1.0 1.4 85.7 2.0 2.7 157.9 3.5 4.2 127.3 61.1
San Francisco 10 1.0 1.7 70.0 2.0 2.9 222.2 3.0 4.6 142.1 50.0
San Jose area 7 1.0 1.9 550.0 2.0 2.3 128.6 5.0 4.1 222.2 85.7
Seattle area 7 0.0 0.7 25.0 4.0 3.3 283.3 4.0 4.0 180.0 71.4

Source: NALP 2010 Survey of Legal Employers on Fall Recruiting and Associate Deferrals.

This table includes offices/firms that reported at least one lateral hire in 2009 or 2010 and that also reported complete information for both years. Collectively these 284 employers reported 2,273 lateral hires in 2010. Following the overall total shown in the first line, the table separates out surveys that reported information firm-wide, or for multiple offices, from those that reported office-specific information. Firm-wide information by region includes firms whose offices are predominantly or wholly in that region. However, office-specific information includes a few instances of firms with one small office in an adjacent suburban location or satellite location, and of multi-office nationwide firms consolidating two geographically adjacent offices onto one survey.

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