The Best and Worst Practice Areas for Associates Looking to Lateral in 2018

Depending on the type of law they practice, BigLaw associates will face significantly different levels of demand for their services.

Firms almost always hire laterals to fill specific gaps in their capabilities and those gaps occur more often in certain practice areas than others. Associates with the most in-demand practices will find plentiful opportunities and perhaps have a handful of offers to choose from. Those without in-demand practices will face competition from legions of associates all competing for the same few jobs.

To see which practices were most “in demand” in 2018 we used Move Tracker to compare the number of lateral associate hires in particular practice areas at 154 top firms to the number of associates in those practices.* The chart below shows the practices with the most lateral hiring relative to number of associates in that practice. It also shows how many associates (i.e. potential competitors) there are for every lateral hire that was made.

We ranked the practices from best to worst for associates looking to lateral:

RankPracticeLateral Hires/# of Associates# of Lateral Hires# of AssociatesAssociates per hire
1Bankruptcy & Restructuring19.2%26513795.2
2Privacy & Data Security18.6%1206465.4
3Energy18.5%21811775.4
4Adverstising & Marketing18.5%351895.4
5Labor & Employment17.9%30417035.6
6Healthcare17.3%1156665.8
7Licensing & Tech Transactions17.0%20311965.9
8Banking & Finance16.9%64237965.9
9Securities & Capital Markets16.6%55133236.0
10Trusts & Estates16.5%684116.0
11Investment Funds16.1%19612156.2
12Exec. Comp.15.6%956096.4
13Real Estate15.4%32321036.5
14Corporate/M&A13.8%108678747.3
15Tax13.6%18213367.3
16Patent Prosecution13.1%17413287.6
17IP Litigation12.3%42834868.1
18Securities Litigation9.0%159176411.1
19Antitrust & Competition8.6%4956911.6
20White Collar/Internal Investigations8.6%285332911.7
21General/Commercial Litigation7.4%9111234713.6
--All10.3%3882377379.7

Overall, 10.3% of all associates at the firms we tracked lateraled in the first 11 months of the year, or one lateral move for every 9.7 associates.

19.3% of bankruptcy & restructuring associates lateraled during that time, indicating high demand from firms for their services and a very favorable environment for bankruptcy associates in the lateral market. Associates with experience in privacy & data security, energy, advertising, employment, and healthcare were the next most likely to lateral. In each of those practices there was at least one lateral hire for every 5.8 associates.

Litigators faced a much more challenging market. Just 911 general/commercial litigation associates were hired as laterals out of 12,347 associates in total (7.4%). There was only one lateral hire for every 13.6 litigation associates. Litigators with a concentration in white collar or securities matters did slightly better. From our experience, the low numbers of litigators who move does not reflect a lack of interest from litigators in lateral moves, but a lack of opportunities at firms. 

If you're curious to learn more about the market for your experience, you can sign up on Laterally to view Move Tracker and see all of the data on lateral moves by peers in your practice, city, and with your seniority. Laterally consultants are also available to qualified associates to answer questions about the market.

Laterally is the leading recruiting platform for the nation’s top lawyers. We combine the best of traditional recruiting (including help with resumes and interviewing, plus connections to recruiters and lawyers inside firms) with a data-centric approach to advising candidates. Our consultants can help answer questions about the lateral market as well as particular firms. Get started by signing up on Laterally or emailing us at consulting@laterally.com

*Data from Move Tracker shows all publicly available moves at 154 firms in the 16 largest US markets. Data is as of Dec. 1. For this post, we only counted law firm to law firm moves (i.e. not moves to firms from clerkships, government etc.). A small percentage of moves are by counsel or junior partners who might be categorized as associates at other firms.