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Law firms shift focus toward litigation hires as deal work cools

By Karen Sloan for Reuters

The hiring market for attorneys moving from firm to firm remained robust in the first half of 2022, but the greatest action has shifted from corporate to litigation practices, new data shows.

Lateral hires of partners and associates by the 200 highest-grossing U.S. law firms both increased 16% in the first six months of 2022 from the same period last year, legal industry analytics company Leopard Solutions said Thursday.

Some of those hires, which Leopard Solutions tracks by additions and removals from law firm websites, were likely initiated in the second half of 2021—which was a record year for lawyer recruiting as firms sought to staff up amid increasing client demand, said Phil Flora, Leopard Solutions’ vice president of sales and marketing.

Lateral recruiting in 2021 got off to a slow start before ending at a frenetic pace, making it unclear how the second half of 2022 will compare to last year’s unprecedented hiring climate, he said.

Current legal hiring suggests that demand for corporate attorneys is waning after a blockbuster 2021 that saw more than $5.9 trillion in M&A activity. The pace of corporate deals had slowed by the end of the first quarter of 2021.

The number of current job openings for litigation roles at law firms tracked by Leopard Solutions is just over 2,900—about 700 more than the number of postings for corporate attorneys, the company found. Those two figures were about equal just six months ago, and the number of posted corporate positions was higher than those for litigation jobs a year ago.

“Litigation is definitely picking up with a thunder right now, and corporate is quieting down at the same clip,” said Kate Reder Sheikh, a partner at legal recruiting firm Major, Lindsey & Africa.

Some firms may have hired too many corporate attorneys last year, she added.