Industry Resources

State Of The Chicago Legal Market

As Chicago prepares for yet another sub-20-degree weekend, the lateral market could not be more different. As we predicted last August, Chicago did indeed reach a five-year high in terms of lateral activity last year, with 509 lateral attorneys repositioning in 2014.

More recently, this past January witnessed 31 lateral moves, the second-highest number of moves in a January since before the recession. Perhaps surprisingly, we are not seeing demand focused in any one particular area. While corporate, finance, intellectual property, and real estate remain strong, we are finally starting to see real movement in the litigation arena as well.

Using an autoregressive–moving-average model (ARIMA), we plotted out what the market might look like in Chicago in 2015.

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Based on our projections, we expect 2015 to be the best post-recession year by a large margin. Our model estimates that there will be an additional 29 lateral moves this year over last year, for a total of 536.8 lateral moves in 2015.

With roughly half of the first quarter on the books (accounting for approximately 50 lateral moves), Chicago’s lateral market is on pace to meet this model’s expectations. Accordingly, we expect to see an estimated 125 lateral moves for the first quarter, which would be the best Q1 since the recession.

This positive growth in lateral activity tracks increasing profitability amongst many Chicago firms. While some firms continue to struggle with the implications of a post-2008 marketplace, more have successfully dug themselves out and are starting to enjoy impressive year-over-year growth. For example, Sidley Austin’s gross revenue shot up 9.5 percent in 2014, and its net income rose by 11.2 percent. It increased its average compensation for partners by 7.6 percent, bringing the average to $1.28 million.

Now, what does this mean for attorneys in the Chicago market? Despite its place as the third-largest legal market in the country, Chicago nonetheless lags its putative peers in terms of lateral activity. As the below chart indicates, Chicago lags behind Los Angeles (4/5 the size of Chicago’s legal market) and San Francisco (1/2 the size of Chicago’s legal market), among others.

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When contemplating a job search in Chicago or any other legal market, it is vital to keep in mind the particular nature and character of that market. In New York, with its 20,000 attorneys working in Biglaw, firms search for and qualify candidates very differently than they do in Chicago; whether as a result of the different scale of the qualified candidate pool, the Midwestern character of the City, or other reasons, Chicago oftentimes operates in a more informal and discrete manner.

The reality is that, for all of its sophistication and global reach, Chicago’s legal market can be an opaque environment in which to navigate. Merely knowing about a potential opening is truly secondary to understanding how best to approach a particular firm — and that is before getting into the issues of qualifying the opportunity, understanding the short and long-term value proposition, and otherwise.

As experienced legal recruiters with deep connections in the Chicago market, we look forward to leading Lateral Link’s Chicago office to new levels of success on behalf of our candidates and clients. Please let us know how we can help, whether it simply be answering questions about the market, discussing your long-term goals, or helping you research your next potential lateral move.