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Law Firms Kick Off 2023 With Westward Push in Smaller Markets

By Andrew Maloney for

Two Am Law 100 firms are starting the new year by expanding into emerging markets out West, as Big Law leaders and analysts anticipate a broader push in the region this year.

Davis Wright Tremaine, No. 89 in the latest Am Law rankings, announced a new office this week in Culver City, California, calling it “a magnet for innovation” and citing the opportunity to grow its entertainment transactional and health care practices.

Also this month, Dorsey & Whitney, No. 98 in the Am Law 100, announced a new arm in Boise, Idaho, expanding a Mountain West footprint that already included Phoenix, Salt Lake City, Denver, and Missoula, Montana. The firm added two transactional lawyers from Stoel Rives, Nick Taylor and Richard Hall, who are focused on areas including technology, finance and food/spirits, and mining, natural resources and energy.

Bill Stoeri, Dorsey managing partner, said the market was a nice fit, given the ascendance of technology and energy and natural resources there, which are industry focuses for Dorsey.

Boise has also drawn direct comparisons to Salt Lake City, which has attracted tech companies and venture capital firms and has seen significant population growth before seeing an influx of law firms over the last couple years. Stoeri said he sees the similarities, both in culture and business.

“Each has university connections. I think with Boise, the technology is probably even a bigger component than it was in Salt Lake or Missoula. But there are nice overlaps,” he said in an interview.

Salt Lake is now home to Dorsey’s second-largest office, after Minneapolis, and Stoeri said while he doesn’t anticipate explosive growth in Boise in the next year, he’ll take whatever opportunities for growth come their way, especially as macroeconomic headwinds are on the horizon.

“If we can get another growing the way Salt Lake has grown for us, that’s what our sights are eventually set on,” he said about the firm’s new Boise office.

The Am Law 100 firm office openings could be a precursor to additional domestic expansion in Big Law. A survey late last year found exactly half of law firm business leaders believed they’d probably or definitely expand into new domestic markets in the upcoming year.

For those respondents, most of the growth was expected in the Southwest (61%), defined in this survey to include states such as Nevada, Utah and Colorado as well as states Arizona and New Mexico. The West—which in this survey included Idaho and California—was fourth among regions, at 35%.

The authors of the report noted that midsize cities in those regions, like Tulsa, Oklahoma, and Reno, Nevada, could begin to rival larger counterparts such as Atlanta and Las Vegas as economic engines with burgeoning legal needs.

“To a certain extent, there may be a desire to shift to where the population is shifting,” said Bill Josten, strategic content manager for Thomson Reuters. “They’re also known as good business climates—so a good place for businesses and clients, and law firms, given tax structures and rates. Those are good markets for potential business opportunities.”

The recent office openings also come on the heels of fast growth by Big Law in smaller markets in general. According to investigative intelligence firm Decipher, most secondary markets have seen “explosive growth” over the last two years, with Salt Lake seeing triple-digit increases in both partner and associate movement relative to their average, and markets such as Seattle and Charlotte not far behind on partner laterals.