Sitting down to pen a report to my clients and candidates about the state of the San Francisco market report, I note that it sounds just like the reports of my colleagues for every other US market for legal services. Executive summary: Strong, but schizophrenic. Hire/don't hire. Grow/sit. Reach out/pull back.
Law firms are still in desperate need of corporate and securities attorneys at all levels. Firms have been chronically understaffed in the associate ranks in all transactional areas for at least 18 months and there does not seem to be any immediate end in sight. Partners who want to switch platforms need to be thinking of a seven-figure number before expecting to get any buzz from AmLaw 100 firms. Litigation remains at zero-growth—there are still legion opportunities, but these are all the result of natural attrition, not growth. Thus, credentials are still very closely scrutinized.
Now for some niche reports:
General Corporate, M&A, & Securities
Unchanged since the Spring. Firms are looking to hire, but they want the best. As usual in this market, a corporate candidate must be a generalist, but with a few niche-specialties under his or her belt to bring to the table. Resumes must emphasize the broad-based nature of the candidate's experience, and what value-added they can bring to client, now.
However, although firm needs are still at all-time highs, the recent credit market bumblings have made the hiring process EVEN LONGER. Firms are “checking their lists and checking them twice.” Even after call-backs, firms are hand-wringing before pulling the trigger on a hire. Kind of like the US Postal Service: they deliver, but it takes forever.
Of course this work is usually a DC or NY thing. However, lots of firms say they want to expand in this area. Bring your pedigree and get your transactions list together; it will be reviewed with a fine-tooth comb.
Labor & Employment
Still weirdly hot. It had appeared to cool down in Spring, but is back up to full strength. The L&E door is the only door open for some litigators now.
ERISA; Corporate Benefits
Unchanged. The few. The proud. The ERISA lawyers.
Firms are thinking growth and integration. There is lots of room here, but what it takes to break in seems in flux. If you have a story, let’s here it; firms are open-minded.
Just like your typical tax lawyer, the market for the same is not terribly interesting (no offense!). Must have LLM, must have top-drawer experience, must be well-versed. Firms are not going to train you.
Unchanged from the Spring but still stronger demand than Summer and Fall of ’06. Needs still are not extremely stronger however. We’ll see what happens in the next six months. Of course, if the economy tanks, suddenly firms will be knocking down your door.
Trusts & Estates
Unchanged from last quarter. The needs are few and not-well communicated. However, on balance, needs slightly outweigh available talent, so the diligent find positions.
Intellectual Property Litigation
There are still scores of opportunities here. Of course, patent is the sexiest of the markets, but soft IP is still in demand also. If I was still a commercial litigator, I would be doing my darndest to convert myself into an IP litigator.
Intellectual Property Transactions
This area is humming along quite well, but I haven’t seen any continued growth since my last report. Candidates that have corporate governance and other transactional experience combined with some litigation and other IP experience may find such positions a good fit. The practice area calls upon a fair number of disciplines. The standards are high; you MUST have been doing intensive IP transactions work for a full year to get any buzz.
Patent Prosecution and Litigation
I think last quarter I downgraded this area to “warm.” Well, I’m calling it “hot” again. As usual, technical degrees-especially BSEEs and MSEEs--are coveted. If you have one, call me! The needs are constant and varied, and there is a perceived lack of adequate talent. As one would expect, with respect to patent prosecution, the higher degree of technical expertise you have, the looser the standards will be on the legal experience and credentials side. Obviously, strong performance in science as well as in law is desired. If you are interested in patent litigation, the same is largely true, but make sure you that you have solid experience. General commercial litigators need not apply, generally speaking, unless academic and firm credentials are of the highest order.
Only “warm” I’m afraid. The needs are still strong, but movement has been sluggish. Still, there are numerous positions available to qualified candidates. If a particular candidate's credentials are not stellar, but there is solid, broad, and well-documented experience, that may suffice. There was significant movement in this area in Fall 06 and firms still need people, but the market is still coagulating.
Same story we’ve had for two years. Firms can cherry-pick litigators now. If you are a fifth- or sixth- year, you had better make the change yesterday if you want to get noticed. If you are in the senior associate ranks, stay put. Partners? Be ready to demonstrate either a rock-solid plan for growth, or have a significant transferable book.
And now a word about business:
As stated at the outset of my report, firms are growing. If you have a book of business, now is an excellent time to consider finding a more appropriate platform. This means that firms are not only looking to expand the depth of existing practice areas, but many are seeking to add as many niche practices as they can. The new paradigm is full service. Partners looking to change platforms need to think more about the existing (and nascent) culture of target firms and a firm's recent and anticipated business moves with respect to geography, client base and practice group, ahead of the existing depth or quality of a current practice.
Universal growth, market pressures for further consolidation (merger), and clients’ demands for firms to be all things to all people, mean that the market for talent is hot. However, after the burned hands of the dot-com bust, firms are still slow to hire. Plus, the recent reminder that markets do actually come down and that discrete market sectors are subject to stupidity and cupidity, firms are again wringing their hands about whether to actually hire to fulfill their current needs. They have to hire, but don’t want to get hung out to dry. It makes for a very interesting scenario.
As a candidate, you need to get your irritation-o-meter up to snuff. It is going to be a slow and jarring ride.