Despite the cold temperatures, January is often the month that the lateral market thaws and attorneys begin to make moves. This year has been no exception, with maybe a little more movement than in recent years. But is the movement among Pennsylvania's firms the typical start-of-the-year burst or is it a sign of things to come in 2013?
In the first month of the year, there were at least six lateral moves plus a large group defection among Pennsylvania firms.
Recruiters and law firm leaders alike expect a similar lateral market to what the industry saw in 2011 and 2012 in terms of activity, with the bulk of Pennsylvania firms looking outside of the state for their hiring needs.
Ballard Spahr Chairman Mark Stewart said he would expect the same amount of movement in 2013 as the market saw in the last few years. Stewart said any increased movement in January is typical of the culture and economic structure at law firms that supports movement soon after the end of a firm's fiscal year.
For Ballard Spahr, lateral acquisitions have been focused in other markets.
"We're rarely talking to lateral candidates in Philadelphia," Stewart said.
That isn't necessarily because the firm feels it has maxed out on attorneys in Pennsylvania, Stewart said, but rather there just isn't as much movement. Aside from the Decherts and Morgan, Lewis & Bockiuses of the world, most of the large firms in the market are on the same playing field financially, Stewart said. Attorneys therefore don't look to move much among those firms. The Philadelphia market is mature and many of the clients are institutionalized in the city, causing attorneys to stay put, Stewart said.
Recruiter Robert Nourian of Coleman Nourian said Pennsylvania firms have reached critical mass in their home-state offices and can service clients from those offices with the people they already have. Similar to Stewart's point, Nourian noted it is also difficult for one firm to woo a group of partners from across the street because there aren't that many differences between the firms.
A Pennsylvania firm talking to laterals in other markets, however, can be an easier sell because it gives those laterals the opportunity to fill out a practice need in a newer office and potentially have more leadership potential or autonomy, Nourian said.
If firms are looking to grow revenue in a lower-demand economy, entering new markets where there is a growing industry base, such as the energy market in Texas, may be the way to go, Nourian said. It might also make sense for firms to open new offices to be closer to a client.