Like the market itself, the commercial real estate practice is rebounding from a deep low. Tech companies expanding into new digs and an uptick in off-market deals are helping keep big-firm real estate departments busy in San Francisco. Some are even thinking about hiring again, but stress they’re going to be very cautious — and choosy.

“I laid off a lot of people. It was very unpleasant,” said William Murray Jr., who leads the real estate practice at Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe. He said his San Francisco group dropped from 18 to 12 attorneys because of the recession, and he doubts they’ll ever return to those pre-crisis levels. “My standards for hiring are tougher. I want to make sure I hire only people who can make it through another tough downturn.”