The State of Chicago’s Lateral Market for Big Law Associates

Laterally, the nation’s leading hiring platform for top attorneys, has changed the lateral recruitment process by offering associates a transparent job market and empirical data on lawyer moves and career outcomes. On our blog, we share some of the data and insights we use to guide candidates through job moves, and which are available to users on Laterally.com.
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Chicago, with just over 3,000 big law associates, is the 4th largest legal market in the United States and growing. Lateral hiring by Chicago firms has risen every year for the past five years, to 300 in 2017. And with 30% more law firm jobs on the market in the first quarter of 2018 than 2017 in Chicago, we expect growth to continue.

But not all Chicago associates have the same prospects when it comes to making lateral moves - or going in house. We'll let the data explain.

First, let's take a look at the current market in Chicago.

In-house jobs

There are currently 113 in-house jobs open in Chicago.

This includes multiple openings at Abbot, Allstate, Aon Risk Solutions, Astellas Pharma, Discover Financial Services, JPMorgan Chase, Kraft Heinz, Optum, R1, and Sears. There are also positions at Grubhub, Baxter, and the Museum of Science and Industry. Laterally aggregates in-house jobs from all the top job boards so that you can see the market in one place. Explore all in-house jobs.

Law firm jobs

There are currently 101 lateral openings at 46 firms in Chicago

There are about 30 large firms that are major players in the Chicago lateral market, plus another 40 or so top firms that hire laterals less frequently and ought to be monitored. Laterally provides users with real time listings of all public jobs, as well as non-public opportunities that firms share directly with us. Explore all law firm jobs.

The practice areas in which firms are hiring

Chicago firms currently have more than 10 openings in M&A, debt finance, and capital markets, but if you're an associate in Chicago looking for a role in advertising, energy or financial regulation, there are just one or two positions available to you currently. Most practices fall somewhere in between those extremes, with a handful of jobs available at any one time. That's enough openings where associates can shop firms a bit, but not enough openings that they can burn bridges or expect a job to be there precisely when they want it. Check out where all the practice stand in this chart: 

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A lopsided lateral market for associates in different practices

A thriving Chicago lateral market means nothing if you're in the wrong practice. Some practices are just so much harder to lateral in than others. Practices in which there is a large supply of associates compared to the demand for these associates are extremely competitive, while practices in which there is a small supply of associates relative to demand have allowed associates to write their own ticket at firms. The following chart shows the number of Chicago associates with experience in a practice area compared to the number of lateral openings in that practice.   

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On the left side of the chart are practices with relatively few associates per job opening, and thus marked by low competition for the jobs among associates. For example, for every job in privacy & data security currently on the market, there are just 13 associates in Chicago with some privacy experience. With firms recruiting from a small talent pool, several privacy jobs on the market have been open for close to six months. A privacy associate in good standing at a top firm is a extremely valuable to firms right now.

On the right side of the chart are practices with intense competition among associates for openings, white collar defense and general litigation among them. There are over 156 associates with white collar and investigations experience for every white collar opening, and 237 associates with commercial litigation experience for every commercial litigation opening. That has led firms with litigation needs to focus specifically on associates with clerkship and law review experience.

How do I navigate this market for myself?

  1. Familiarize yourself with the market, including jobs and moves on Laterally by signing up on Laterally.com.

  2. Learn from an attorney consultant what is expected of you as a lateral candidate, what your range of outcomes could be if you go through the lateral market, and whether a move could actually pay dividends for your career. Our consultant in Chicago is Valerie Callaghan, who previously worked at two major law firms and in-house in Chicago and has counseled dozens of Chicago candidates on moves and careers.


Chicago Move Data

When making a move, whether in the stage of narrowing your initial targets, or deciding where to accept, we recommend candidates look at our Move Tracker to get a better sense of the market. On Move Tracker, users can see how their peers have fared in the market and can compare firms on a range of criteria, including retention and the likelihood of their associates landing jobs in-house or in government. The following statistics are based on 988 associate departures from 2015 through 2017:

Where Chicago associates went when they moved

  • 60% went to another firm
  • 23% went in-house
  • 4% went into government
  • 5% took a clerkship but didn’t return to their firm
  • 7% went to ot her destinations

         Explore all moves

The top law firm destinations for Chicago associates

  1. Kirkland & Ellis
  2. Sidley Austin
  3. Seyfarth Shaw
  4. Mayer Brown
  5. Katten Muchin Roseman
  6. McDermott Will & Emery
  7. DLA Piper
  8. Latham & Watkins
  9. Jones Day
  10. Jenner & Block

         Explore all law firm moves

The top in-house destinations for Chicago associates

  1. BMO Financial Group/BMO Harris Bank
  2. Groupon
  3. Abbvie
  4. Aon
  5. JLL
  6. Pricewaterhouse Coopers
  7. United Airlines
  8. CF Industries
  9. Hyatt Hotels Corporation
  10. Northern Trust Corporation
  11. Oracle

          Explore all in-house moves

The career stages in which Chicago associates moved

  • 170 (17%) moved as junior (1st and 2nd year) associates
  • 299 (30%) moved as midlevel (3rd and 4th year) associates
  • 225 (23%) moved as late-mid (5th and 6th year) associates
  • 290 (29%) moved as senior (7th year and older) associates

This is largely in line with the pattern seen among associates nationally.

Explore all departures

How long Chicago associates remained at their firms:

  • 65% remained at least 3 years
  • 46% remained at least 5 years
  • 39% remained at least 7 years

That’s 9 points, 10 points, and 16 points higher, respectively, than the national average. Chicago associates move less often than their peers elsewhere.

Explore all associate tenures

Firms whose Chicago offices retained the highest percentage of their associates after five years

  1. Seyfarth Shaw – 72%
  2. Perkins Coie – 67%
  3. Ropes & Gray – 65%
  4. Greenberg Traurig – 64%
  5. Reed Smith – 61%

         Explore all Chicago tenure numbers 

Career snapshots of some former top Chicago associates

Christina (Catalano) Miller left Kirkland to become Vice President at Prudential Capital Group in San Francisco and is now Associate General Counsel at lending startup Affirm, Inc.

Hans Grong joined 3M from Latham & Watkins three years ago and was recently promoted to Senior Counsel – Mergers & Acquisitions of 3M Ventures.

Matthew Dornauer left Sidley Austin after four years and is General Counsel at Phusion Projects, the maker of Four Loco.

Mark R. Johnson spent seven years at Sidley before heading to Eimar Stahl, where he made partner, and then moved to McGuire Woods as partner.

Joshua J. Yang lateralled as an associate from Katten Muchin Rosenman to Winston & Strawn, where he became Of Counsel, then lateralled in 2016 to K&L Gates as a Partner. Last year, he moved as Partner to Drinker Biddle & Reath.

 Check out moves and career outcomes of 1800+ Chicago big law associates