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San Francisco as Sanctuary: The Region's Diversity Buoys Fall-out from Questions in the Corporate Market

Some pundits relate a perceptible slow-down in corporate hiring and the traditional fleshing out in the litigation ranks. As far as the validity of this observation in the Bay Area, I have to say it is more nascent than fully realized, but the following are telling:

1. Firms at all levels are still SEEKING corporate candidates. This is an important point. It belies the fact that the economy is still fundamentally strong, which is to say that there is as-yet-untapped demand for legal services. The drivers here? Globalization, and a relatively stable and functioning global financial and transport/trade infrastructures. As long as these fundamental stay in play-and they have and will in spite of (or as a result of, depending on your politics) the current "pax Americana" wars.

2. Actual "trigger-pulling" has slowed perceptively in terms of corporate hires, however. While the process has continued unabated through the Summer and early Fall, I have noticed that some firms are slower on the draw than they otherwise have been in the past 24 months. The slow-down has been nearly perfectly contemporaneous with the credit debacle. Yet, after Citibank and other wrote off their 10-figure losses, the market rebounded and firms started hiring again.

3. Litigation needs have always been strong, if unremarkable, but there are rumblings about further needs. Standards for interview invitations have relaxed by a small, yet perceptible degree. It is not as bad as it was during early summer where Circuit Court of Appeals clerks could barely get a blink out of the top-tier firms.

4. The main-line "niche" practices are stronger, and ever more so. Labor & employment, real estate, estate planning, ERISA, energy, and even tax are growing. This is the result of the echo-effect of globalization. While the largest firms globally consolidate, those same firms, while unable to eschew the "all things to all people" paradigm, are unable to sustain the relatively depressed rates of these practices. Thus, they are fleeing rather precipitately to well-known boutiques. There are many, many opportunities here.

5. All IP-related practices are of course still untouched by any wobbles in the credit crunch. Even the still faint but perceptible visceral (and inaccurate) prognostications of world-wide recession cannot stop this juggernaut. Intellectual property is the "new" real property, folks. Gotta get some. Trouble is, they keep "making more." Oh yeah, I forgot, that's why it is the legal services side of the house that is so strong!

6. Population trends favor sustained growth in this market. I won't quote you the numbers, but suffice it to say that the Bay Area's population is continuing to grow unchecked. The need for legal talent continues to increase, and the pool of the 'right kind' of candidates continues to shrink as a percentage of the available pool of talent. Thus, these are, and will continue to be, salad days for attorneys. Even better for all of us are the continual seismic threats. That keeps away the merely idle on-lookers and attracts just that many fewer to flesh out the ranks.

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