Legal Industry Trends 2023 Review

Emerging Legal Industry Trends Based on 2023 Leopard Solutions Data  

As our annual State of the legal industry report is about to hit the press, some interesting findings emerged that we feel are likely to influence law firm behaviors in 2024. Here are highlights of the emerging trends to help firms better prepare for the new year.  

Decline in Legal Job Openings Across Sectors  

In 2023, the legal job market contracted, particularly in the Real Estate (RE) and corporate sectors. Overall, the industry experienced a 6% decline in job openings, dropping from 15,424 in 2022 to 14,561. Notably, Am Law 200 firms saw a significant decrease of 19%. The data, compiled from public disclosures by over 1,200 firms in our database, highlights the impact of the Fed’s generational interest rate hikes in response to rising inflation.  

Real Estate took the most brutal hit, with a 43% fall across all firms and a substantial 58% decline among the top 200 firms by gross revenue. Corporate sectors also faced a retreat, experiencing a 39% decrease for all firms and 42% for the Am Law 200. Even Intellectual Property (IP), known for its resilience during economic downturns, saw a hiring pullback, with a decline of 26% and 30% among all firms and the top 200, respectively.  

Job Openings in 2023 for all firms

Litigation Shines Amidst Market Correction  

In a year that could be characterized as a market correction following the hiring excesses of the early 2020s, the Litigation practice area emerged as the lone bright spot. It witnessed a robust 17% increase, totaling 7,232 new job listings. This resilience reinforces the notion that resolving rights-based disputes through the court system is downturn-proof.  

Women Lawyers Surpass Men in Associate Ranks  

The analysis of 2023 hiring shifts reveals a significant milestone in the gender landscape. Women lawyers have surpassed their male counterparts in numbers among the associate ranks of Am Law 200 firms. Since 2020, more women than men have been hired as new associates, steadily rising from 53% in 2020 and 2021 to 54% from 2022 onwards. The achievement is attributed to the observed trend of graduate hiring outpacing lateral associate hiring in 2023, with lateral hiring continuing to favor men.  

AmLaw 200 Associates Hiring by Gender for 2023

Disparity at Partner Levels Prevails  

While more women are entering the top 200 law firms at the entry level (54% for the past two years), the partner level continues to exhibit a gender disparity. The overall lateral numbers for women declined by 1%, with their male counterparts experiencing a nominal increase. This trend seems to continue to persist into 2024. 

Emerging Trends in Law Office Openings  

The legal landscape witnessed new trends in city and state preferences for law office openings. Dallas emerged as a surprise leader with five new Am Law 200 firm office openings in 2023, making it the city with the most openings among the top 200 firms since 2021. Seattle also had a noteworthy showing with 13 new office openings outside the Am Law 200. The article explores the practices dominating these openings. It highlights the continued dominance of NYC and Los Angeles in the top 20 cities for such openings.  

Top Law Schools Contributing Legal Talent  

Georgetown and Harvard led the pack among law schools, with over 200 graduates hired into the top 200 firms. Columbia University, NYU, and Virginia followed closely in the top five. The top law schools continue to be rising legal stars as we saw top firms hiring more entry-level associates than lateral attorneys for the first time in six years. 

Top Law Schools Top 200 law firms hired in 2023
Amlaw top 200 firms hiring of lateral versus new entry-level associates

For more in-depth information on these trends, view our State of the Legal Industry webinar on Wednesday, January 24, at 1 p.m. EST. Sign up on demand.

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