Lateral Hiring in Law Firms Increases Dramatically; Entry-Level Also High
The legal job market remains extremely strong, with both lateral and entry-level hiring showing significant increases according to Employing Associates in 1998: Patterns & Practices, a new publication from the National Association for Law Placement (NALP).

Lateral hiring at law firms nationwide increased by 26.4% from 1996 to 1997, a sizable jump over the 9.5% increase in lateral hiring poasted between 1995 and 1996. Firms of 251+ attorneys are leading this trend with an increase of one-third. Entry-level hiring is also increasing steadily, with a 15.8% increase from 1997 to 1998 which follows a 14.6% increase over the previous year. In addition, 31.2% of the responding employers reported a more than 50% increase in entry-level hiring in the past year; 38% of employers reported a more than 50% increase in lateral hiring.

Using information drawn from the two most recent editions of the National Directory of Legal Employers, published by NALP and Harcourt Brace, Employing Associates in 1998: Patterns & Practices provides expansive documentation of the hiring of entry-level associates, summer associates, and laterals at about 900 law offices, representing 530 major law firms nationwide. NALP's unique access to such broad coverage over time makes Patterns & Practices the premier source for valuable perspectives on hiring at the national, state, regional, and city level.

Although the increases in associate hiring were nationwide, distinct regional differences emerged. The change in lateral hiring ranged from a low of 19.6% in the West/Rocky Mountain region to a high of 32.5% in the Midwest. In comparison, increases in entry-level hiring ranged from 14.1% in the Midwest to 19.5% in the Southeast. Specific cities and states also revealed various patterns. Tampa, for instance, showed a 48% increase in entry-level hiring; in contrast, Miami offices hired 8% fewer entry-level associates. Offices in other parts of Florida mirrored those in Tampa. Other areas are reversing law year's trends -- Chicago, for example, posted a 20.3% increase in entry-level hiring for 1997-98 after an almost flat year in 1996-97, while Cleveland posted a 4.1% decrease in entry-level hiring this year as compared with a 14.1% increase in the preceding year.

Other findings include:


  • Overall, 89.9% of second-year summer associates who were considered for an offer received an offer of permanent employment. This was less common in firms of 100 or fewer attorneys (80.8%) and nearly university in firms of 251+ attorneys (92.8%). Practices also varied by city and state. For example, in most areas at least 80% of second-year summer associates received offers, but the figure was about 59% in Austin and 68% in Miami.


  • The largets firms employ the most associates per partner, leveraging with 1.35 associates per partner, compared with just 0.73 associates per partner in firms of 100 or fewer.


  • Among the 579 offices reporting information on standards for minimum billable hours, requirements for associates ranged from 1,300 hours to 2,160 hours. The most frequently reported minimums were 1,800 (30.2% of offices) and 1,900 (29.5% of offices). Although one-fifth of New York City firms set 2,000 hours as a minimum, the percentage was as high or higher in other cities, including Dallas, Houston, and Chicago. Requirements were high in Atlanta as well, where half of the offices set 1,900 hours as the minimum. The majority of offices in Boston and Seattle, in contrast, required 1,800 billable hours.


  • Of the offices reporting actual average associate billable hours, 18.5% reported an average of fewer than 1,800 billable hours, and 22.3% reported an average of more than 1,950 billable hours.


In addition to documenting broad nationwide and regional hiring trends, the 107-page report presents detailed information for 22 cities and 13 states including:


Cities: Altanta, Austin, Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, Columbus, Dallas, Denver, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, Minneapolis, New York, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Portland, San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle, Tampa and Washington, D.C.

States: California (outside of Los Angeles, San Diego, and San Francisco), Connecticut, Florida (outside of Miami and Tampa), Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey, New York (outside of New York City), North Carolina, Ohio (outside of Cleveland and Columbus), Pennsylvania (outside of Philadelphia), Texas (outside of Austin, Dallas, and Houston), Virginia, and Wisconsin.

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