Taking Stock of the Legal Job Market: Practice Areas on the Rise

Growth-sign-iStockAfter years of layoffs and a very tight legal job market, legal candidates are beginning to see some positive changes. Hiring activity for attorneys at law firms and corporate legal departments is finally starting to pick up at the end of 2012, and we anticipate that it will continue to increase at a steady pace in 2013. While this is great news for the legal job market in general, there are some specific practice areas that will fuel demand for talent and generate the most hiring activity. These practice areas include:

Transactional/Mergers and Acquisitions
As confidence in the economy returns, M&A activity is expected to increase significantly in 2013. Along with increased M&A activity will come a growing demand for transactional lawyers (corporate/securities/finance; M&A) at both mid-sized and large law firms. With more deals will come more opportunities for lawyers with four-to-seven years of experience in this practice area than in recent years.

With corporations continuing to grow at the global level, there is a growing need for attorneys well-versed in compliance matters – specifically, the Foreign Corrupt Practice Act and trade (import and export) and customs regulations. Corporate legal departments need attorneys with regulatory and compliance experience to handle day-to-day operations as well as more significant international transactions (specifically relating to due diligence).

As the healthcare industry continues to grow, so too will the demand for healthcare lawyers. The Affordable Care Act, along with new federal and state healthcare regulations, have produced a strong need for lawyers specializing in healthcare compliance. Many of the nation’s biggest law firms have thriving health law practices that they will continue to grow to meet the demand. Additionally, there is a burgeoning market for in-house healthcare lawyers, especially at insurance, biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies.

Labor and Employment
The labor and employment practice area has already experienced tremendous growth in recent years. However, thanks to changes in labor relations, collective bargaining, wage and hour actions, and an increase in Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) charges against employers, demand in this sector is going to intensify. An increasing number of corporate law firms are turning to in-house labor and employment attorneys while others continue to rely on outside law firms to meet the demand. This equates to more labor and employment attorney jobs across the board.

Intellectual Property
Intellectual property attorneys, who typically have training in engineering or the sciences as well as law, are in very high demand across the country by both law firms and corporate legal departments. Part of the reason for the intensified demand is the passage of The Leahy-Smith America Invents Act (AIA), which will go into effect on March 16, 2013. The Act switches the U.S. patent system from a “first to invent” to a “first inventor to file” system, eliminates interference proceedings and develops post-grant opposition. In today’s recovering economy, many companies will go to great lengths to protect their product lines and processes and are willing to hire in-house patent counsel to assist them in this endeavor. Additionally, intellectual property attorneys specializing in litigation are being sought after by both law firms and corporations across the country due to the uptick in trademark, copyright and patent infringement litigation.

With the oil-and-gas industry still booming, there continues to be a high demand for lawyers with energy experience (transactional, commercial contracts, and regulatory). This demand is strong not only in Texas, but across the nation, specifically in areas with strong shale plays such as North Dakota, Pennsylvania and New York. Law firms of all sizes are continuing to add both associates and partner-level lawyers who have experience in this practice area. Energy exploration and production companies, as well as oilfield service and pipeline companies, are also adding attorneys with energy experience at all levels.

The legal job market is clearly on the rebound, so keep your eyes open for opportunities that fit your skills and your career goals.

Contributed by Marguerite Johnson, Attorney Search Director, Prescott Legal Search, Houston, Texas

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