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Stats Confirm BigLaw Lateral Hiring Is Picking Up; Is It ‘Driven by Desperation’?

Posted Feb 1, 2012 9:06 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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The statistics confirm the trend: Lateral hiring is back in vogue in BigLaw.

In the fiscal year ending on Sept. 30, lateral hiring at the nation’s top 200 law firms increased by 22 percent over the previous year, the American Lawyer reports. In all, 2,454 partners left or joined large law firms, even as transactions and litigation work began to lag.

The year before, lateral hiring had dropped to its lowest level since 2000. The increase in 2011 is only partly attributable to hiring from the disbanded law firm Howrey. When those acquisitions are factored out, the increase is 16 percent, the American Lawyer says.

The Wall Street Journal (sub. req.) suggests a reason for the turnaround. “Stealing talent—and clients—is a speedy path to growth, while investing in business development could take years to bear fruit,” the newspaper says.

The headline on a separate article in the American Lawyer says the hiring binge “is driven by desperation, not a thriving economy.” The story explains that, “In a stagnant economy, firms seek to expand market share and increase profits by poaching top performers from competitors.”

Firms with the largest net losses in partners were Hunton & Williams (28), McDermott Will & Emery (27), K&L Gates (20), and O'Melveny & Myers (18). The American Lawyer contacted the firms for comment. A statement issued by McDermott said the firm is focused on strategic markets in a “careful and deliberate growth initiative.” The story also cites an interview last year by O’Melveny incoming chairman Bradley Butwin, who said the firm views the departures as an opportunity and now “there is a greater sense of unity” at the firm.

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