Gillman Market Barometer

Updated September 2023

There are good reasons why lawyers prefer hybrid.

Saved commuting time is possibly billable, and since lawyers account for their time in 6-minute increments, it’s not like they’re shirking work. And maybe they like their kids now that they’ve seen them.

Law firms push the value in building the relationships and more cohesive teams that “in the office” implies. And I think they have a legitimate concern that associates who don’t spend in-person time with partners may not learn to be as effective.

So firms want lawyers in offices. One way they do this is through mandates: over the summer, several law firms implemented and announced office mandates, including Davis PolkVinson & ElkinsSkaddenWeil Gotshal, and Ropes & Gray.

They all opted for four days in the office.

Their public announcements were surely an attempt to signal the labor market with a “if all firms insist on the same thing, lawyers won’t have anywhere else to go, so join us” message. There was some general expectation that all other firms would follow suit.

But they haven’t, probably due to the labor market and local conditions.

The thing is that not even partners want to be back in the office full-time or even 80% of the time; they don’t like to be told what to do, and as a result, mandates may not work.

A Microsoft survey suggests that “rebuilding social capital” is crucial to returning people to the office. Some firms are still offering perks, and Venable has a new home office in the office design. Cozen O’Connor has overtly stated that they will encourage partners to give work to those in the office, which I guess is social capital?

More people will undoubtedly be in the office more often, but I think firms will struggle to enforce their mandates because so many lawyers see them as unnecessary. And, while I understand Cozen O’Connor’s position, I think most partners will work with the associates who deliver the best results, not those in the office.

I think it comes back to leverage. With all due respect to Microsoft’s survey, I’ve seen a buyer’s labor market, and I think people would be much more willing to comply with mandates if they didn’t have options. So, the real question is, will the labor market weaken enough to give firms leverage? It doesn’t seem to be weak enough today.

Regardless of market conditions, however, I know that partners who bring in the business will make their own decisions. Build a book of business, and you call the shots.

So, if you are a rainmaker unhappy with your work-from-home situation, there is a better firm out there; I’d love to help you find it.

And I’d love your thoughts: Hybrid, home office, or in person?

Hottest Geographies at the moment:

This hasn’t changed much in the last year, and I don’t expect it to change much this year:

  • Warmer Climates
  • Lower Cost-of-Living Climates
  • Secondary Markets
  • Florida
  • Charlotte
  • Raleigh
  • New York
  • Washington, D.C.
  • Texas
  • California
  • Seattle
  • West Coast

Hottest Practice Areas

Practice areas shift more frequently than geographies, and we review them monthly. We do expect the first half of 2023, at least, to be framed chiefly by economic uncertainty. This is having a significant impact on Corporate, M&A, and Capital Markets. Litigation was softening but appears to be strengthening again. Regulation and ESG seem to be the bright shining stars at the moment.

Generative AIThe opportunity seems to be in creating a new practice at a law firm. But this is so new and so hot that it is hard to pin down what the opportunity is: what is clear is that AI is causing issues, and legal help is in demand.
Corporate / Mergers and Acquisitions/ We hear many M&A lawyers are getting busier; it appears that the market is picking up slowly with a good outlook.IPOs also seem to be warming up. And there is a lot of M&A in law. Economic activity/recession.
Capital MarketsCapital Markets is down all over. If you can, you may want to think about retooling into finance; even better would be debt finance as bankruptcy gets busier.
Funds Lawyers and FinanceDemand for funds lawyers are up all over; if you can retool as a funds lawyer, this is an area that is seeing sustained demand.

Finance is a little less clear: it seems that finance is holding steady.
EnergyWhile many corporate practices have been down since 2022, the energy market continues to be strong, with many deals proceeding. If you focus on a down market and are looking for opportunities, retooling for energy may be a good move.

This seems to be at least partly driven by the Inflation Reduction Act money.
The long-term impact of the Inflation Reduction Act.
Regulatory practices are strong across the board – if you feel that your practice is threatened, look for an opportunity to retool as ESG.

Here is an article on the topic, Why Financial Regulation Is Big Law’s Newest Battleground – with recent banking issues (April 2023) financial regulation experts are in demand).

Also, legal issues related to increased interest in Climate Change legislation is driving demand for environmental law experts (April 2023).
Will there be a recession?
Labor and EmploymentYears ago, this was a slow and steady practice, but it heated up with the COVID shutdown. It remains hot, with employees not wanting to return to offices, layoffs with companies experiencing the recession, and general uncertainty in the labor market. The impact of the recession on the labor market.
LitigationExpecting to see an uptick in litigation because it is a counter-cyclical practice. As deals go bad, we’d expect people to sue over these deals rather than move to the next one.

We are starting to see some improvement and greater demand for litigation.

Also, many court closures created a backlog of cases, and as courts catch up, this has created demand for more litigators.
If clients experience a recession, they may not want to pursue expensive litigation. The impact of a recession, therefore, is an uncertainty.
Commercial Real EstateReal Estate is off everywhere at the moment because borrowing money is expensive, and the direction of interest rates is unclear.

Sit back, build your book of business, and be ready for the next wave.

Real Estate is not down in Florida… one of the few exceptions to the rule.
The future of interest rates.
Environmental Social And Governance (ESG) and RegulatoryCyber attacks continue to grow and reveal privacy issues. This looks like an area for growth if it is an area you are interested in pursuing.

These are things you can still learn; take a CLE course, and read this post on retooling.
Political impact on ESG programs and future.
Intellectual PropertyBio-Tech was up at the beginning of the pandemic, and it continues to be sought after. There is a lot happening in electrical engineering, computer science, and pharma/biotech seem to be the busiest areas right now.

Patent litigation has been very busy.
Some suggestions that firms are reducing IP staff – but patents still seem very strong. (December)
Privacy and Cyber LawContinues to be very active, and sources tell us that this is an opportunity for the future.

If your corporate practice is down, consider a CLE in Healthcare.
HealthcareContinues to be very active and sources tell us that this is an opportunity for the future.

If your corporate practice is down, consider a CLE in Healthcare.
Cannabis Everybody says that there is an opportunity in the Cannabis market, but we aren’t seeing it so strongly.