Law Firm Talent Landscape: An Analysis of Lateral Hiring Trends in 2023

In the wake of the global pandemic’s enduring impact, the legal domain witnessed a notable shift in its hiring dynamics. According to a recent report by the National Association for Law Placement (NALP), lateral hiring by law firms saw a significant downturn, marking a trend that has persisted since 2022.

In 2023, law firm offices experienced a striking 35% decrease in lateral hires compared to previous years. This decline, which follows a similar trend from the preceding year, reflects a departure from the robust hiring patterns observed in 2021. NALP’s findings reveal that law firms, on average, brought in four lateral attorneys per office in 2023, down from six in both 2022 and 2021.

Notably, the median and average numbers of lateral hires in 2023 plummeted to their lowest levels since the aftermath of the Great Recession in 2010. This decline underscores a significant deviation from the hiring frenzy witnessed just two years prior.

Nikia Gray, the executive director of NALP, suggests that the hiring surge of 2021, driven by intense competition for talent and escalating associate salaries, was ultimately unsustainable. The subsequent downturn in lateral hiring, coupled with a decrease in summer associate recruiting, reflects law firms’ strategic adjustments in anticipation of diminished demand in the foreseeable future.

The decline in lateral hiring was particularly pronounced among lateral associates, with a staggering 43% decrease in hires compared to the previous year. In contrast, lateral partner hires saw a more modest decline of 10% in 2023.

Interestingly, the demand for lateral partners exhibited variations based on firm size, with larger firms reducing lateral partner hires by over 19%. Conversely, smaller firms experienced a surge in lateral associate hires, indicating a nuanced response to shifting market dynamics across different segments of the legal industry.

As law firms recalibrate their hiring strategies in response to evolving market conditions, the landscape of lateral recruitment continues to evolve, shaping the future trajectory of talent acquisition in the legal profession.


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