Forget New York or Los Angeles. If firms are looking to charge firm-friendly rates for in-demand work, they may want to open up shop in North Dakota or Pittsburgh — and of course be ready and able to do work for the natural gas industry.

According to marketing consultant Bob Denney’s midyear update to his annual “What’s Hot and What’s Not in the Legal Profession” report, the “shale rush” has made places like Pittsburgh and North Dakota hot legal markets, with Houston also generating energy work. Denney said five outside firms have opened in Pittsburgh in the last six months.

Not surprisingly, energy was first on Denney’s list of “red-hot” practice areas, and apparently it can pay well.

“The ‘shale rush’ along with advances in fracking technology have revitalized the natural gas industry and the establishment of offshore oil deposits in the Gulf of Mexico have all combined to attract global companies to invest in the U.S.,” Denney said in his report. “And there’s no client resistance to the high fees.”

Even firms that aren’t doing shale-related work are looking to Pittsburgh because other work is increasing thanks to the energy companies and ancillary businesses that are flocking to the region.

Saul Ewing opened in Pittsburgh in May with the addition of four Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis lawyers.

“We view the Pittsburgh market as, economically, one that’s been really picking up,” Saul Ewing managing partner David S. Antzis said at the time.

San Francisco-based Gordon & Rees opened in the city in March, rather unexpectedly, as it was initially looking to open in Philadelphia.

“We are seeing more interest in the Pittsburgh market from firms from outside the city than we’ve seen in quite some time,” recruiter Lori Carpenter of Carpenter Legal Search had said.

But shale work and Pittsburgh aren’t the only hot trends in the law this year.

Many large firms are looking across the globe to South Korea now that a free-trade agreement has been signed between the Asian nation and the United States and United Kingdom. Pittsburgh-based K&L Gates has applied for a license along with firms such as O’Melveny & Myers, Ropes & Gray, Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton, Paul Hastings, Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton, McDermott Will & Emery, Clifford Chance and Simpson Thacher & Bartlett, according to Legal affiliate The Am Law Daily.

Brazil and Latin America are the two other high-growth geographic regions, according to Denney’s report.

Along with energy, financial services work is “red-hot.” Denney notes that it is not just large firms that are getting in on this work, but smaller regional firms as well. He pointed to Jenkintown, Pa.-based Friedman Schuman as one example of a firm capitalizing on its strength in that area.

Regulatory, health care and intellectual property litigation remain hot, Denney said. At the time Denney wrote his report, the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling on the health care reform law had not been issued, but its impact will bring health care law and insurance work into the “red-hot” category, he said.

Some areas that have “cooled” are work related to initial public offerings, mergers and acquisitions and securities class actions, Denney said. He said IPOs dropped 20 percent last year and the “Facebook fiasco just made things worse.” But Denney cautioned that sources have said there is pent-up demand in the IPO world that could make that practice heat up come fall.


Denney offered some tidbits on trending issues in law firm marketing. He pointed to a HubSpot study that found LinkedIn is by far the best social network for lead generation.

In terms of workplace social media policies, the National Labor Relations Board warned in late May that policies may violate employees’ rights depending on how they are written and interpreted, Denney said.

A PricewaterhouseCoopers survey found clients’ number one reason for selecting a lawyer is recent relevant experience, with the number three reason being the relationship with the lawyer. Denney also noted that corporate procurement departments are having a greater voice in selecting outside counsel, though he pointed out that they are still learning the legal services sector.

Denney also pointed to Blank Rome’s recent decision to create a chief strategy officer role, who works directly with department heads and practice group leaders to develop and implement strategies and policies.

A recent increase in cybersecurity threats targeting law firms has resulted in lawyers being asked to encrypt messages, resist using free Wi-Fi connections and regard text messages as possible security threats, Denney said.

In response to a poor market for recent law school graduates, some law firms are reducing the sizes of their incoming classes, Denney noted. And in May, a Massachusetts Bar Association task force recommended the legal industry learn from medical schools how to provide practical experience to third-year students. 

Gina Passarella can be contacted at 215-557-2494 or at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @GPassarellaTLI.