Affordable hourly rates and an economy that is moving along at a respectable clip are driving demand for legal services in St. Louis. The city of 318,000 people has an unemployment rate of 7 percent, below the national number of 7.6 percent, and its economy grew at a "modest pace" during 2012, according to the U.S. Federal Reserve.

Armstrong Teasdale's hourly rates in St. Louis are about half of that charged by firms in Chicago, Cleveland, Los Angeles and New York, managing partner Michael Chivell said. About 185 of its 265 lawyers work in St. Louis, but 75 percent of its clients are based elsewhere.

Noting strong demand for litigation, labor, corporate and intellectual property work all over the globe, the firm this year added 25 attorneys of various experience levels, including two in Las Vegas, he said.

Similarly, Bryan Cave's clients around the world see savings of 30 to 50 percent on discovery costs because the firm's electronic discovery team is based in St. Louis, said Robert Newmark, managing partner of the firm's local office. "That may be a major driver for why we're seeing the kind of growth we've seen," he said. Bryan Cave has 990 attorneys globally; about 220 of them are based in St. Louis, where the firm was founded.

The attorney job market remains sluggish, but there's strong demand for St. Louis litigators and transactional attorneys and especially for labor and employment lawyers, said Chris Batz at The Lion Group, a legal recruiting firm near Kansas City, Mo. "Big Law is hiring, but they are hiring at a much slower pace, and there's far more strategic hiring than before" 2008, when the economy took its dive.

St. Louis' financial services sector continues to offer steady work for attorneys who have expertise in mergers and acquisitions, contract review, risk avoidance and regulatory compliance. The city hosts headquarters for Scottrade Inc.; Wells Fargo Advisors LLC, which provides asset management, estate and retirement planning and financial services; and financial adviser Edward D. Jones & Co. L.P.

St. Louis is also home to hundreds of smaller life sciences businesses and has been a welcoming home for startups and emerging companies.

"There's a very resilient start-up community in St. Louis," Newmark said, "and it seems to be gaining more and more traction."