With an expanding hedge fund industry and its ranking as the country's fourth-largest state in terms of household income, law firms in Connecticut are continuing their climb back from the recession.

Real estate has come alive again, corporate regulatory work is on the rise and corporate and personal tax experts are staying busy in the Nutmeg State. Still, companies that survived the downturn are being extremely cautious about spending their money; commercial litigation remains weak, although the past 12 months have brought back some mergers and acquisitions activity and even some long-delayed bankruptcy work.

The number of Connecticut-licensed active lawyers residing in the state is 21,150, according to the American Bar Association.

Connecticut's legal industry is consolidated around two cities — Hartford and Stamford. Hartford's long-time association with the insurance and financial services industry remains, but biotechnology is on the rise. In nearby Farmington, genetics research organization The Jackson Laboratory is building a new genomics lab on the University of Connecticut Health Center's campus. Stamford, meanwhile, continues its role as a major investment and corporate headquarters center with a growing population of hedge funds.

Said J. Dormer Stephen, co-chairman of Shipman & Goodwin's business and finance practice: "I think the perception that lingers about Hartford is that it's all about insurance companies." But "while financial services continues to be a strong industry, you've got a growing life sciences, aerospace and health care industry," he said. Stephen expects the Jackson Laboratory development to create a lot of "R&D work and spinouts." "The state has really stepped up to support the life sciences industry," he said.

Stamford's legal business, meanwhile, continues to swirl around the dozens of Fortune 500 companies headquartered in the area — including Xerox Corp., GTE Corp. and Tosco Corp. — and the growing hedge fund industry that includes Westport-based Bridgewater Associates, the largest hedge fund in the world.

The damage from the 2008 crash on the state can't be overstated — many firms are still stabilizing, and hiring mainly involves successful laterals like Stephen, who joined Shipman from Dewey & LeBoeuf, which dissolved last year.

The loss of attorney jobs in major cities has been good for smaller, more affordable firms in the area. "We've been able to attract a lot of good people from New York," he said.