Lateral hiring rebounded at an unprecedented rate of nearly 111% in 2021, NALP says

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Lateral hiring at law firms was up nearly 111% in 2021 following a 30% decline in 2020, according to the National Association for Law Placement.

The 110.9% increase was the largest year-over-year increase since the NALP began tracking that kind of data 23 years ago, according to a March 30 press release summarizing results from the NALP’s Survey on 2021 Lateral Hiring. The previous year-over-year high was 48.5% in 2011, the NALP’s analysis found.

Lateral hiring increased across all categories of lawyers, but it was highest for associates. Their lateral hiring increased by nearly 149% in 2021. Lateral hiring of partners increased by nearly 43%.

“The fact that the lateral hiring market was red hot in 2021 does not come as a surprise to anyone working in the industry,” said James Leipold, executive director of the NALP, in the press release. “Even so, it is startling to see these numbers. … Lateral lawyer hiring at this level is likely unsustainable over time, and I expect the lateral market to cool a bit in 2022, or at least level off. But for now, it remains a volatile and fast-moving market. Coupled with rising associate salaries, it’s a bit of a battlefield out there for midlevel associate talent right now.”

The findings were based on information on nearly 7,700 lateral lawyers in 480 offices and firms.

Other survey findings included:

• The survey for the first time asked about the hiring of lateral lawyers located outside an office’s geographic area who would be allowed to work remotely. The percentage of hired lawyers who didn’t have to relocate was 15.3% for lateral partners, 22.7% for lateral associates and 23.4% for other lateral lawyers.

• The level of lateral hiring was highest in the Northeast, largely because of hiring in the New York City market.

• Among cities reporting at least 50 lateral hires, the highest percentage increase was in Houston, which had a 191.4% increase in lateral hiring.

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