Harbinger of Things to Come? In California, Demand for Midlevel Associates is “Extraordinary”.

Until recently, the number of viable openings for associates was not looking good in the Valley, as the southern part of the San Francisco Bay area is affectionately known. In a place that has long been deemed a barometer of all things economic, head hunters had such light schedules they downsized to a four-day week.  

That’s all in the past, now, claims “The Recorder”, which publishes “Essential California Legal Content”.   A recent issue mentioned the rebound of M&A (mergers and acquisitions) and IPO (initial public offerings) activity. 

In fact, there is now so much demand for midlevel associates (particularly in corporate departments) that Swan Legal Search principal Delia Swan has had to hire two more recruiters.  

It’s only part due to client demand. Another factor at work is that, since law firms have trimmed down, now that excess projects are showing up, there aren’t enough lawyers to handle the work. And so administrators are scurrying around looking for new lawyers.  

“It’s been a long time coming,” Swan said. “Firms have trimmed so much there’s no room to take on excess work. They necessarily have to hire new people.”  

Great news, but what about salaries?  Are they still stalled or, worse, getting smaller?  Nope. Just the opposite.  Cooley, and Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati, having noticed that associates are once again in demand, have raised their own associates’ salaries, bringing them up to par with what standard salaries were pre-recession.  

Whereas Cooley had lowered its base salary for a fourth-year associate to $185,000, they’ve now increased it to $210,000.  Wilson Sonsoni, too, has moved its fourth-year associates to around that level.  

It’s not just the corporate world that is buzzing again. Perhaps due to a domino effect, litigation, patent prosecution and licensing are all booming, and these lawyers are in high demand.  

And, always a sign that things are on the upswing, smaller firms in the area are looking to expand.  The managing director for Major, Lindsey and Africa’s San Francisco office didn’t mince words: “The demand is just extraordinary right now.”  

So what are the actual numbers?  Cooley has added 16 associates to its Palo Alto office since January of this year. Granted, some were first years, but many were lateral hires. The partner noted that they’re looking for three more midlevel associates for their patent prosecution, corporate and IP departments.  

Firms are competing with in-house departments to meet their needs. 

Another head hunter—Scott Dubin of the Dubin Group in San Francisco—is scouring his sources to come up with ten licensing and patent litigation lawyers for a Fortune 500 corporation.  He did admit that corporatons tend to hire more senior associates than firms, but “[s]ometimes their needs…overlap,” he noted.



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