The 17 Hottest (and Coldest) Markets for Associates in 2016

Laterally places associates, counsels and partners at law firms and companies worldwide, and through its website, offers a transparent job market for candidates to track the lateral market without the cold calls and opacity of the traditional recruiting process. In our 2016 Year in Review series, we share empirical data on the market that is available in real time to all Laterally users (sign up here).

With many in the industry predicting that we would see reduced lateral hiring this year after a strong 2015 (the strongest year since 2007) the results from 2016 are great news for associates. At 270 major firms in the 17 largest legal markets in the US, there were virtually no change in associate lateral hiring (3,098 associate opportunities came on the market this year versus 3,107 in 2015).*

However, job growth was not evenly distributed. Some cities saw significantly increased hiring, while others saw significant declines.

In 2016, the hottest markets for lateral associates were:

1) Denver 

The 9th largest associate market in our data set (12th in 2015) had 108 jobs on the market in 2016, a 27% increase over 2015. Growth was spurred by significantly increased hiring at Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, Bryan Cave, and Perkins Coie. Together, in fact, they represented 41% of all open positions in Denver, with 26 other firms in our data set making up the rest. Denver's real estate, corporate, commercial litigation, IP and energy practices are growing as more companies choose to start up in or move to Denver. Even marijuana legalization is a source of growth, as law firms take on the many regulatory needs of this emerging industry.

2) Chicago

Chicago went from 44 firms hiring for 258 jobs in 2015 in our sample to 50 firms hiring for 295 jobs in 2016 - a 14% increase. This came about largely because of a 400% increase in both IP litigation and IP prosecution hiring, an almost 300% increase in investment funds hiring, and a doubling in commercial litigation hiring. Chicago's overall lateral activity has for years lagged behind markets like LA and San Francisco (whose legal markets are actually smaller) so in some ways this can be seen as a period of catch-up. At the same time, in the last few years Chicago's tech and media industry has grown steadily, there has been a significant expansion of scientific R&D, and many Chicago firms have had strong income growth.

Hint: San Francisco wasn't #1

3) San Francisco

293 lateral associate openings in SF represented a 13% expansion from 2015. Real estate hiring was half of what it was the previous year, but tax, privacy, and investment funds opportunities doubled, while finance, IP litigation, and commercial litigation jobs were all up between 38% and 58%. Firms have been moving more jobs to San Francisco in response to the center of gravity for emerging companies shifting here, away from Silicon Valley. Firms are also accommodating young lawyers and their desire to live and work in an urban environment. 

After the top 3 were:


Meanwhile, 5 markets saw declines in hiring this year:


1) Silicon Valley

Treated as a single entity, the Bay Area is the largest lateral market outside of New York and saw just a modest 2% decline this year. But splitting out San Francisco and Silicon Valley, we saw the former post impressive growth, while the latter experienced significant decline. Silicon Valley's 245 jobs represented a 16% decrease from high flying 2015. Some headwinds for emerging companies (and an ongoing shift by tech companies from the Peninsula to San Francisco) naturally affected the legal market here. Labor & employment, privacy, commercial litigation and IP litigation did grow this year, but patent prosecution, and licensing/tech transactions declined slightly, while corporate practices saw drastic declines: corporate and finance-related hiring was down 40%.

After Silicon Valley, were:


You can track all 17 Markets side by side in this one chart

Comparing associate lateral openings at 270 firms in 2015 and 2016 shows the relative sizes of different markets, and upward or downward shifts in those markets.

Comparing associate lateral openings at 270 firms in 2015 and 2016 shows the relative sizes of different markets, and upward or downward shifts in those markets.

All of the data presented here are available on Laterally, filterable by location, practice area, and your particular class year. Sign in or sign up and navigate to the research tab to see our historical jobs database. Our consultants are also happy to answer your questions and provide additional analysis about particular markets and practice areas. Send any questions you have to


*The data in this post comes from Laterally's jobs database, which pulls in all public listings from 270 U.S. law firms, including every AmLaw 100 and Vault 100 firms that list jobs. The data does not account for the jobs that went unfilled or jobs at firms that do not make their jobs publicly available (for example, many firms work with recruiters, including Laterally, but do not authorize the release of this information publicly). However, the data are a meaningful proxy of demand for laterals in various markets.