Sophie’s Rearview Mirror: Key Moments from the 2023 US Legal Market

Sophie Webb, Consultant, Legal Services (US)

We have seen a cautious year regarding attorney hiring in the US market. Firms are reactive and are still navigating the after-effects of Covid 19. Candidates remain reluctant to move due to market conditions; overall, it has seemed stagnant compared to previous years.

That being said, we have seen firms continue to grow and develop throughout 2023, despite difficult circumstances. Kirkland & Ellis has led from the front in terms of gross revenue at $6.51B; its top three practice areas being Corporate, Litigation and Banking. A total of 1739 associates, globally, make up the firm, with the majority spread across their headquarters in Chicago, as well as in New York and Texas; which are predominantly made up of alumni from elite law schools, such as Northwestern University, Harvard University and the University of Chicago. Latham & Watkins came in closely behind, with a gross revenue of $5.32B. Similarly to Kirkland, the firm saw its top three practice areas as Corporate, Litigation and Banking, slightly surpassing Kirkland in terms of associates, which is unsurprising considering the billable hours at Kirkland sit at the higher-end, with associates being expected to bill north of 2200 per year. Latham & Watkins consists of 2055 1st to 8th-year associates, globally, alumni from Georgetown University, Harvard University and Columbia University. DLA Piper, headquartered in London, saw a gross revenue of $3.69B. The firm saw its busiest practice areas as Corporate, Litigation and Real Estate. 2327 associates make up the firm, globally, the majority located in London, New York, and Washington D.C., with several US-based associates originating from Georgetown University, University of Law and Harvard.

As anticipated, “the annual salary wars” commenced with Milbank’s internal memo in November, and we saw a ~5% increase in Cravath scale remuneration; 1st year associates now starting on $225k. However, some firms chose to opt out, favouring a stronger focus on culture and work/life balance.

There were rumblings pre-Labor Day that firms throughout the country were pushing for more in-office days post federal holiday; this was in fact realised, with most firms now implementing a 3 to 4 in-office days as mandatory. This varied state to state, with the West Coast adapting a slightly more relaxed approach; the East Coast, such as New York and Washington D.C, appeared unaffected as most were in-office every day anyway, with limited living space, battled with the cost of living. Firms have reported that associates are more productive in-office, with the ability to work comfortably and resourcefully. This has definitely been a mindset shift for most candidates. Individuals have not only enjoyed the flexibility of being able to work from home, but have also become accustomed to it, truly fostering a balance between work life and home life. We initially witnessed a resistance from lawyers, with flexibility becoming as important as salary; however, associates are slowly coming around to the idea. This has presented a huge benefit for junior lawyers, from both an anthropological and development perspective, with their having access and exposure to collaborate with mentors and Partners with ease.

For the last quarter in 2023, there has been a reluctance for candidates to move laterally, due to end of year bonuses, with most being paid out from December. With this in mind, we are predicting a busy and buoyant Quarter 1.

Wishing my network a great holiday season! Happy New Year!