2014 Lateral Hiring Report: Of Counsel Attorneys

This week we are publishing the third part of our special report on lateral hiring trends in the legal market. In our prior postings we reported on the trends in lateral hiring of law firm partners and associates. This week our attention shifts to lateral hiring for of counsel positions.

These reports are based on market data we have collected on our own over the last five years. As previously mentioned, several general caveats should be noted about our methodology and the scope of the data collection:

  • this report only covers data for the top 200 American law firms;
  • it covers lateral hiring practices in 19 major domestic markets;
  • we collect this data on our own and make no representation as to its completeness or accuracy;
  • the associate numbers in particular may be subject to underreporting (more so than partner lateral hiring) simply due to law firm policy regarding public announcement

Despite these caveats we believe the data available to us and as presented here is directionally accurate as to general market trends. We also make this data available by email subscription (sign up at the bottom of this article).

Of Counsel Lateral Hiring Trends 2010 – 2014

Not surprisingly the 5-year trend for of counsel lateral hiring follows the same general pattern we discussed previously regarding law firm partners and associates. After tailing off sharply in the years immediately following the Great Recession, large law firms gradually resumed a more normal and elevated pace for lateral hiring of counsel positions as shown in the chart below.Total Of Counsel Lateral Hiring

But notice over the course of the last three years how of counsel lateral hiring has held remarkably steady. This is true in the aggregate as well as when we look at the numbers broken down by geographical region or major practice areas; there has been very little variability in the level of counsel hiring from 2012 to 2014. This stands in sharp contrast to the trends we discussed previously for lateral hiring of both partners and associates, where there is considerable variability year over year. Compared to the clocklike regularity with of counsel hiring, partner lateral hiring dropped by 6.4% from 2012 to 2013 and associate lateral hiring fell off by more than 36% from 2013 to 2014.

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London Calling

It’s a great thing when you spin the Wheel of Fortune and your lucky number comes up.  This is exactly the position that qualified mid-level associates find themselves in today now that animal spirits are percolating once again in the legal market.

As we discussed in part 2 of our recently published Lateral Hiring Report – market conditions for mid-level associates have never been more favorable than they are right now due to a dearth of qualified candidates with requisite Big Law firm experience.  You can literally write your ticket to any one of a number of destinations, and take your pick from a broad range of interesting opportunities.

And one of the options you might want to consider is a ticket to London.  A few of us from Kinney Recruiting spent some time there last month and we found that mid-level American associates are in very high demand among the ranks of the Magic Circle firms and beyond.    So this week we wanted to share with you a few things we learned on our trip in case you’re interested in opting for a few years in London as your next prize of the spinning wheel.  Contact one of our recruiters today if you’re interested in learning more.

  • The high-yield debt practice in London is booming and this is a major source of demand for mid-level U.S. law associates. Many of the high-yield deals in London are done in compliance with U.S. law – specifically Rule 144A – so top tier U.K firms have a keen appetite for U.S trained associates with high-yield finance experience.  There are also a number of opportunities with top tier U.S. firms who are active in the London high-yield market.   This experience is highly relevant to the job world on both sides of the Atlantic, so it’s actually a great option for someone who thinks he/she may well want to return to the US eventually.

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2014 Lateral Hiring Report: Law Firm Associates

This week we are issuing the second part of a special report on trends in the 2014 lateral hiring market.

Last week we analyzed the data on lateral hiring of law firm partners. This week our attention shifts to lateral hiring of associates,  which is always a reliable — yet lagging indicator of demand for legal work. The series will conclude with a discussion of lateral hiring for of counsel positions as well as our observations on the distinct hiring strategies taken by various leading law firms.

Our report is based on market data we have collected on our own over the last five years. As mentioned in last week’s post, several general caveats should be noted about our methodology and the scope of the data collection:

  • this report only covers data for the top 200 American law firms;
  • it covers lateral hiring practices in 19 major domestic markets;
  • we collect this data on our own and make no representation as to its completeness or accuracy;
  • the associate numbers in particular may be subject to underreporting (more so than partner lateral hiring) simply due to law firm policy regarding public announcement

Despite these caveats we believe the data available to us and as presented here is directionally accurate as to general market trends. In addition to publishing this annual report, we will be issuing several more detailed regional reports over the course of the year.  We also make this data available by email subscription (sign up at the bottom of this article).

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2014 Lateral Hiring Report: Law Firm Partners

This week we are issuing the first part of a special report on trends in the 2014 lateral hiring market.

While some legal publications assess the state of the legal market health by tracking such metrics as revenue per lawyer and profits per partner, here at Kinney Recruiting we focus on data that illuminates hiring and employment trends among leading U.S. law firms.

This data is an incredibly powerful tool for providing guidance to attorneys and law firms when they are considering making a lateral move. Even for those who are happy with their current practice and have no interest in testing the waters, the insights in this report about overall trends in the legal market should be of interest to practitioners and law firm managers alike. The data clearly show that partner lateral hiring has become an important strategic optionfor the vast majority of big law firms in their pursuit of opportunity and growth.

We’re publishing the report in two parts. This week we’re focusing on lateral hiring trends for partners. Next week we’ll report on trends for associates and of-counsel.

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How to Interview with a Cold Fish

Becoming a lawyer is no easy task. It takes years of hitting the books, late nights of studying through college and law school, followed by months of cramming for the bar exam. And then to actually land a good position in this weak job market – well it’s really no surprise that applications to law school have been in a steep decline ever since the market crash in 2008.

And sometimes the biggest challenge faced by an aspiring lawyer comes at the end of the process – after you’ve landed an interview for the job of your dreams and then you find yourself sitting across the desk, trying to have a conversation with a lawyer who is an exquisitely cold fish.Interview with a cold fish

Let’s face it. Some lawyers are lacking in the social graces – small talk is often not a professional’s forte. And anyone who has interviewed with an old line firm like _____& ______ (fill in the blanks yourselves; we won’t because we probably work for them and have friends there) has surely run into a stuffed shirt or two along the way – an interviewer who seems glum or bored or distracted, bereft of personality and unable to do anything other than make you feel discouraged about your prospects. One friend of mine tells a story about interviewing with a Wall Street firm where the partner actually fell asleep five minutes into the interview, only to be woken several moments later, when the ash fell off the tip of his cigar – this being back in the day when you could still smoke a stogie in your corner office on Maiden Lane.

So as a service to all the job seekers out there this Holiday Season preparing for their next round of interviews, our team of Kinney recruiters has prepared a list of suggestions about what to do if by luck of the draw you end up sitting across from one of those painfully shy or rude partners, whether sleeping or aware, who is having a hard time holding up their end of the conversation. Here’s how to get your cold fish to start talking:

1. Of course with any interview your preparation should begin well before you’re ushered into the room. With a little advance research you can easily learn where your interviewer went to school, how long they’ve been with the firm and with any luck some additional info, such as where they’re from. You can also ask mutual acquaintances, such as a recruiter, or the person who set up the interview, for more insight. With your research complete, you’ll have a few good talking points to use when the conversation hits a lull, as it surely will.

2. When you step into their office take a quick look around. See if there’s a golf trophy, artwork or photos of their family on vacation that you can bring up casually in your conversation. Creating a personal connection is important in any interview but particularly when you’re dealing with a cold fish. One thing you can always count on is that someone with children loves those kids, whether he/she sees them very often or not.

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Prediction for 2015: A Round of Salary Increases for the Elite Firms

The legal market is at a trigger point.  That’s our sense of it here at Kinney Recruiting.  And that’s why we’re making our prediction for this Holiday Season:  this will be the first year since 2007 with a round of general associate salary increases at the world’s elite law firms.

It’s hard to believe, but for the entire current crop of associates – first through eighth years at Big Law firms across the country – there has never been one of those sweet little emails or envelopes from the Managing Partner bringing good tidings that the firm is raising the scale of base salaries for associates and providing positive fodder for the comments page at Above the Law.  Ever since Simpson Thacher & Bartlett set the mark of $160,000 for first year associates in 2007 (read the original story) it has held in place as the top tick of the market.  As legal-salary historians know, that move was generally copied by other firms, with various safety measures to prevent payment of top salaries to less “productive” team members.

But this year (or early next year – the 2007 salary hike was announced in January) we expect the wheel to turn again.  Our basis for making this prediction is very simple, and even someone without our inside knowledge within the firms in question could make it.  Just look at the numbers published by the American Lawyer, Above the Law and other trade journals, which show profits per partner (“PPP”) surging at the top tier firms, and take a look at associate salaries in percentage terms relative to those numbers.  True enough, the financial recovery in the legal market has been uneven, with continuing softness and excess capacity in many segments.  But after a few years of belt-tightening, as the deal economy has gradually come back to life, the top end of the legal market is doing better than ever – and then some.  Take Cravath, for example, where PPP has bounced all the way back from the 2007 level of $3.3 million to $3,448,000 in 2013.  The same is true at Sullivan & Cromwell and a handful of other top firms, where PPP now exceeds the pre-recession levels.  But in the same time frame, the needle hasn’t moved on associate salaries.Law Firm Profits per Partner

Some folks seem to think that associate salaries are somehow correlated to geography or cost of living, but we’ve been around long enough to remember the way the elite firms play this game, and it has nothing to do with zip codes or inflation.  For a handful of firms in New York this used to be a game of bragging rights when they showed up for campus interviews at Harvard and Yale.

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Kinney Recruiting Expands into Chicago

Kinney Recruiting is pleased to announce the expansion of our services to the Chicago market.  With the opening of our newest office, we are now providing legal recruiting services on the ground in the Windy City as well as Austin, Dallas, Frankfurt, Hong Kong, Houston, Miami, and New York.  This strategic growth allows Kinney to further service some of our most important clients – many of whom call Chicago home, and to continue our standard operating procedure of keeping our ear close to the ground in every market we serve.

Our office in Chicago will be led by Chris Miller, who originally hails from the great state of Texas.  Chris has been a licensed attorney for more than 18 years, with a particular expertise in the management of large scale e-discovery programs, both at national firms and in the operation of third-party vendors.

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The New ATL Power Rankings

Last summer we were approached by our friends at Above the Law about the possibility of sponsoring their new law firm rankings. Power 100 FirmsSince we know that lawyers (our target audience) are obsessed with seeing where they stand relative to their peers, it struck me as likely that the sponsorship would be valuable just from an “eyeballs” perspective. But nevertheless I was a little dubious at first about the value of such an undertaking. Is one more law firm ranking really necessary when we are already so well-endowed in this department by the American Lawyer and the National Law Journal, among others?

But after reviewing the research findings it became clear to me that Above the Law was on to something new and different in the way they were approaching the rankings. After all, the traditional approach to law firm ranking, pioneered by Steve Brill at the American Lawyer back in the 1980’s, focuses almost exclusively on questions of revenue and profitability, seeking to establish the law firm pecking order based on such fundamental metrics as total revenue and profits per partner. There is no doubt that this served a real purpose in the market initially, by exposing what had previously been very closely held information to the light of day.

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If you are a US associate at a top US firm and contemplating a move from US to Asia or within Asia, your choice of recruiter / agent may have a great influence over your job search experience.  There are three realities of selecting a recruiter that have the potential to greatly influence your career: First, the vast majority of recruiters who are calling you have the time to make those calls only because there is nothing else they really do and their contacts at firms are minimal at best, notwithstanding their convincing claims to have close relationships with various US partners at target firms in Asia.  Second, most recruiters in the Asia markets (whether they are based in Asia, US or elsewhere) will send your resume to many more firms than you give them permission to contact.  This type of behavior of recruiters is unfortunately common in the US markets too, but even more prevalent in the Asia markets.  Third, many recruiters who are calling you with news of an opening at your level at one or more of the three most targeted and popular firms in HK / China for US associates are simply making up a story (maybe there actually is an opening at one of those firms, but they don’t care or know, they only know they have a better chance to get your resume if they talk about “openings” at your level at a particular firm or firms).

Against this backdrop consider that most recruiters covering the Asia markets have not made more than 10 placements of US associates in Asia in their lifetimes.

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One of our law firm clients has referred us to one of their important clients in the US, Europe and China – a leading global technology supplier for the auto industry – in order to handle their search for a new Asia General Counsel and Asia Chief Compliance Officer.

Kinney is exclusively handling this in-house search.

This position will have a lot of responsibility and include supervision of eight attorneys underneath them in the China in-house team.  The new hire will report directly to the global general counsel and global chief compliance officer, who is based in the US.  The new hire’s ability to make judgement calls is going to be as important as their technical skill set background.

The position is based in Shanghai and will deal with the company’s operations all over Asia and also in India, including frequent acquisitions in the region.

It is expected that the new hire will come from a top US firm’s Shanghai, Beijing or Hong Kong offices, currently in a top flight corporate practice at the senior associate, counsel or junior partner level.

Mandarin fluency is strongly preferred.

Compensation package is at over $500,000 USD.

Please reach out to Evan Jowers at or if you are interested.

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