Industry Resources

Chicago Hiring Trends in 2017 and Looking Ahead to 2018

Chicago is the nation’s third largest legal economy with a range of top international firms, prominent regional names, IP specialty firms, and mid-size firms supporting a diverse range of industry sectors, including finance, technology, healthcare, consumer products, insurance, and automotive. With consistent deal-flow and complex litigation matters, the Chicago lateral attorney market remained robust over the past year with key firm and practice area hiring trends lending insight into what to expect in 2018. Whether you are an attorney looking to stay in Chicago or one considering relocating to a Chicago firm, we have analyzed and assessed recent lateral attorney hiring data to assist through the search process.

Chicago Attorney Job Market Report and Practice Area Hiring Trends

According to reported data, the top Am Law-ranked, regional, and midsize law firms in Chicago hired 742 lateral attorneys between January 1, 2017, and the start of this week (425 associates, 228 partners, and 89 counsels). Over the past five years, we have seen a steady increase in year-over-year lateral attorney hiring in Chicago with the respective number of attorney hires in the same corresponding time period being: 710 lateral attorney hires in 2016, 699 in 2015, 665 in 2014, and 575 in 2013.

The practice areas with the most hiring in 2017 were corporate and finance, litigation, IP, and real estate. Some of the very best Vault and Am Law-ranked corporate practice groups reside in Chicago. In particular, Kirkland, Sidley, Latham, and Skadden lead the way on headline corporate and private equity transactions on an international scale. Corporate and finance had 161 new attorney hires in Chicago. Within these practice areas, corporate hiring has been primarily concentrated in M&A and, especially, in the private equity space. Consistent with the structure of most Chicago finance practice groups, debt-finance including syndicated and leveraged lending was the busiest finance hiring area. Other exceedingly active corporate practice areas are fund formation and investment management. There are numerous global investment fund practice groups handling formation and fund management for a spectrum of fund offerings centered mainly in private equity funds, including: large and middle-market buyout, growth equity, debt, secondary, venture, technology, and real estate funds. Hedge funds and registered investment companies practice groups have also consistently hired attorneys in 2017. Chicago funds practice groups are very receptive to and regularly hire attorneys from top New-York based Am Law 100 funds and investment management groups.

Litigation also saw a significant demand for lateral hiring in 2017 with 215 attorney hires. Chicago is a nerve center for big-ticket commercial, securities, and white-collar litigation with revered institutions, such as Kirkland, Sidley, Jenner & Block, Winston & Strawn, and Mayer Brown. Notably, this year we saw the opening of powerhouse King & Spalding’s Chicago office with leading attorneys in investigations and related commercial litigation. IP also showed considerable lateral attorney hiring gains with 98 lateral attorney hires in 2017. Chicago hosts many top IP teams at both large Am Law-ranked general practice firms and IP specialty firms with major presences in the technology, pharmaceutical, and life sciences industry sectors. Earning the nickname Silicon Prairie, Chicago attorneys have the opportunity to handle cutting-edge IP litigation and patent prosecution matters for an array of top blue-chip and start-up technology companies. We have also seen a consistent demand for technology and IP transactions attorneys with a focus on outsourcing, software development, software, data, trademark, patent and technology licensing, telecommunications, international franchising, commercial agreements, and strategic alliances.

Real estate is another continually prospering Chicago practice area netting 57 lateral attorney hires in 2017. Real estate attorneys in Chicago have the opportunity to work with industry leading partners on sophisticated transactions for a full range of parties, including major REITs, lenders, and private equity investment funds. The diversity of Chicago real estate practice groups, affords attorneys the opportunity to be part of large-scale acquisitions and dispositions, joint ventures, financing, and portfolio-based deals involving all property types, including hotel and resort developments, commercial offices, retail, and national multifamily and mixed-use portfolios. Other notable staple Chicago practice areas where we have seen concerted attorney hiring are healthcare, in both the corporate and regulatory space (21 attorney hires), restructuring (17 attorney hires), and estate planning (31 attorney hires).


Given the increased demand for lateral associates and partners in 2017 and preceding five years, we anticipate continued steady lateral attorney demand across core practice areas in 2018. As you consider lateral opportunities, selecting a recruiter who is knowledgeable and regularly places attorneys in the specific locale is critical to a successful search. With a recruiter who is a market expert, you will have the advantage of knowing about unposted positions and have a more efficient interview process given their strong firm relationships. At Lateral Link, our recruiters are dedicated to specific regions and cities with years of experience working with the best firms and practice groups. We greatly look forward to assisting our attorney candidates in the search process as we head into 2018.

About the Author

Zain Atassi is a Managing Director with Lateral Link, where she recruits and places high-level attorneys with leading Am Law firms, high-end boutiques, and Fortune 500 companies in Chicago and nationally. Zain focuses on the individual needs of her clients and candidates, delivering the utmost personalized attention. Before joining Lateral Link, Zain gained significant experience as a legal recruiter with a national legal search firm. Prior to recruiting, she spent six years as a litigation attorney with Chicago-based law firms. Zain holds a J.D. from Washington University School of Law and a B.A. with Honors from Washington University in St. Louis.