Lateral Hiring Plummets

NALP Bulletin, March 2010

Lateral hiring was off by more than 50% in 2009. That is the bottom-line finding of NALP's 2009 "Survey of Legal Employers on Fall Recruiting and Associate Deferrals," which requested information on lateral hiring in 2008 and 2009. The results shown in the table on the opposite page are based on reports from 308 employers who reported at least one lateral hire in one of the two years. The table includes cities with at least five offices reporting figures for both 2008 and 2009, and collectively reporting ten or more lateral hires in 2009.

  • Overall, based on aggregate hiring of just over 1,500 lateral lawyers in 2009, the volume of hiring decreased by 52% compared with 2008, with a median of two and an average of five lateral hires. However, the percentage decrease in partner lateral hires was about half that of associate lateral hires - 31% compared with 62%. As it has in the past, however, the volume of associate lateral hiring continues to outstrip that of partner hiring (albeit by a smaller margin), with associate lateral hiring accounting for 57% of the lateral hiring reported for 2009.

  • As the table shows, however, changes in aggregate hiring varied considerably by firm size, with the largest aggregate decreases at the largest firms. However, aggregate outcomes are only part of the story. For example, the median number of lateral associates hired in 2009 was 1 in both the smallest and largest firms, but decreases in the aggregate were 38% and 70%, respectively. Further perspective is provided by looking at the extent to which offices did not do any lateral hiring in 2009. Almost one-fifth did not, and the proportion hiring no lateral partners was twice that, 40%. Because so many offices did no lateral associate and/or lateral partner hiring in 2009, the medians for those who did hire is worth mentioning: the overall median was 3, and for partners and associates it was 2.

  • Regional contrasts are evident, with aggregate decreases ranging from just under 50% in the Mid-Atlantic, Southeast, and Midwest regions, to over 60% in the Northeast and West/Rocky Mountain regions. Again, however, changes in the aggregate do not necessarily correspond to levels of hiring or the absence of hiring. For example, despite an overall decrease of 62% in the Northeast, the percentage of offices not doing any lateral hiring was smallest, at 13%.

  • Aggregate decreases occurred in every major market, with decreases in Boston, Philadelphia, and San Francisco most precipitous, at over 70%. (The volume represented by these cities, however, is quite small.) These same cities, along with Minneapolis, also experienced the largest aggregate decreases in lateral associate hiring. At the partner level, aggregate declines were largest in Los Angeles and San Francisco. For the two cities with by far the most offices and volume reported, New York and Washington, DC, decreases were 62% and 38%, respectively.

  • Measured as either the average or the median, levels of activity were generally highest in Washington, DC, Ohio, and Michigan. These areas also showed the smallest aggregate declines and some of the smaller percentages of offices reporting no lateral hiring in 2009.

This year's results document the second year of decline in lateral hiring - and that the pace of decline accelerated, from about 26% from 2007 to 2008, to 52% from 2008 to 2009. This contrasts markedly with earlier in the decade, when survey results showed steady increases. 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, NALP's survey has documented two years of decline after 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 in March NALP Bulletin columns on entry-level and lateral hiring.)

Lateral Hiring in 2009 and Comparison with 2008

  # of Offices Reporting Partners Associates Total
Median #
Hired
in 2009
Average #
Hired
in 2009
% Change
in # Hired
2008-2009
% of
Offices
Not
Hiring
in 2009
Median #
Hired
in 2009
Average
# Hired
in 2009
% Change
in # Hired
2008-2009
% of
Offices
Not
Hiring
in 2009
Median #
Hired
in 2009
Average
# Hired
in 2009
% Change
in # Hired
2008-2009
% of
Offices
Not
Hiring
in 2009
Total 308 1.0 2.3 -31.3 40.2 1.0 2.8 -61.5 32.6 2.0 5.1 -52.2 19.7
By # of Lawyers Firmwide
100 or fewer 47 0.0 0.8 15.6 58.7 1.0 1.4 -38.1 31.9 1.5 2.2 -25.2 19.6
101-250 49 2.0 2.5 -16.0 20.4 2.0 2.7 -61.7 24.5 3.0 5.2 -48.3 8.2
251-500 48 2.0 3.5 -15.1 33.3 3.0 4.1 -50.1 25.0 5.5 7.6 -37.9 25.0
501-700 23 1.0 4.7 23.0 34.8 2.0 4.5 -38.5 17.4 3.0 9.2 -17.6 4.3
701+ 140 1.0 1.9 -52.7 44.3 1.0 2.6 -70.2 41.0 2.0 4.4 -64.9 24.5
By NALP Region and City or State
Northeast 48 1.0 1.9 -47.1 35.4 2.0 2.7 -67.5 29.8 3.0 4.4 -61.7 12.8
Boston area 9 1.0 0.9 -46.7 44.4 0.0 1.0 -80.4 55.5 2.0 1.9 -72.1 22.2
New York City 31 1.0 2.4 -49.6 29.0 2.0 3.6 -66.6 20.0 4.0 5.7 -61.8 3.3
Mid-Atlantic 61 1.0 2.3 -17.5 29.5 2.0 2.7 -59.7 34.4 4.0 5.0 -47.1 19.7
Newark/Northern NJ 7 0.0 1.0 -36.4 57.1 3.0 2.3 -50.0 14.3 4.0 3.3 -46.5 0.0
Philadelphia 5 2.0 2.6 -31.6 20.0 3.0 2.2 -84.9 40.0 3.0 4.8 -73.9 0.0
Washington, DC/Northern VA 31 2.0 2.6 -1.2 12.9 2.0 2.3 -56.9 32.3 4.0 5.0 -38.4 12.9
Southeast 65 0.0 1.5 -33.1 50.7 1.0 1.8 -58.2 41.5 1.0 3.3 -49.8 27.7
Atlanta 10 0.0 0.9 -47.1 70.0 1.0 1.0 -68.8 30.0 1.0 1.9 -61.2 30.0
Dallas 7 1.0 0.6 -33.3 42.9 1.0 1.1 -60.0 42.9 1.0 1.7 -53.8 28.6
Houston 7 1.0 0.9 -64.7 42.9 0.0 0.6 -87.9 57.1 1.0 1.4 -80.0 25.0
Miami/Ft. Lauderdale/W. Palm Beach 8 0.5 1.0 -33.3 50.0 1.0 2.1 -51.4 37.5 1.0 3.1 -46.8 25.0
Midwest 58 1.0 2.4 -6.6 37.3 1.0 2.1 -62.7 27.1 3.0 4.5 -45.1 16.9
Chicago 15 0.0 1.0 -48.3 53.3 1.0 1.3 -76.8 20.0 2.0 2.3 -69.4 13.3
Michigan 9 1.0 2.9 -15.8 22.2 2.0 2.9 -61.8 0.0 3.0 5.8 -45.5 0.0
Minneapolis 11 1.0 1.9 5.0 45.5 0.0 0.8 -80.0 54.5 1.0 2.7 -53.8 36.4
Missouri 6 1.0 1.7 -54.5 50.0 1.5 3.3 -39.4 50.0 3.0 5.0 -45.5 33.3
Ohio 7 2.0 2.6 -14.3 14.3 2.0 3.1 -50.0 14.3 3.0 5.7 -38.5 14.3
West/Rocky Mountain 60 0.0 1.0 -63.2 55.9 1.0 1.7 -67.0 35.0 2.0 2.7 -65.8 23.7
Los Angeles area 13 0.0 0.9 -65.2 53.8 1.0 1.8 -51.2 46.1 1.0 2.7 -56.3 38.5
San Francisco 11 1.0 0.8 -85.7 75.0 2.0 1.3 -86.9 27.3 2.0 2.1 -86.5 18.2
Source: NALP 2009 Survey of Legal Employers on Fall Recruting and Associate Deferrals. The number of offices shown is the total number reporting at least some lateral hiring in either 2008 or 2009. The number of offices included in each calculation may be less because not all surveys included complete information. City figures generally do not include offices which provided one survey to cover lateral hiring nationwide or for multiple offices. Some city figures may include a few offices in suburban locations, or firms whose figures include small branch offices in other parts of the country.
National Association for Law Placement, Inc.® (NALP®), 1220 19th Street NW, Suite 401, Washington, DC 20036-2405, (202) 835-1001 info@nalp.org, © Copyright 2019 NALP

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