How Do I Know Whether My Skills Are in Demand in the Current Market?

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Paul Danielson

How do I know whether my skills are in demand in the current market?


A lot of attorneys time their job search in a not-particularly-strategic manner, i.e., it takes a life event that isn't in their direct control to prompt them to explore the lateral market. Things like being laid off, a spouse getting a dream job in another location, needing to be closer to family due to a medical issue, etc.

For those attorneys who do have some control over the timing of their job search, however, it is extremely advisable that you maximize your chances by making a move when you have two critical factors in your favor.

First, it is best if you are in the "sweet spot" of lateral hiring. Aside from partners with large portable books of business, firms overwhelmingly look to hire lateral attorneys with 2-6 years of experience in their relevant practice sector.

If you end up as a senior associate with no portable business and no prospects at making partner, your opportunities on the lateral market are going to be severely constrained. Thus, you might want to consider making a move while you are still in that mid-level "window" of opportunity.

Even if you are happy where you are with your current firm, you should constantly be evaluating your long-term opportunities with the firm, how good they are with associate development, how likely you are to make partner (if that is your goal), and other factors that will significantly impact your career as you become more senior in status. If you are unsure of your prospects down the road at your current firm, look now before it becomes a significant problem.

The second factor is whether there is demand on the lateral market. If you are a first or second year, you may be able to ride it out until the next uptick in demand for your sector. However, if you are a 3rd through 6th year and your practice area is hot, you should absolutely test the waters to see if there is a better long-term opportunity for your career goals, or for your life goals if that involves moving to another city to be closer to family, friends, or for a better quality of life.

Ideally, these two factors will overlap, but because the legal market (like the economy and business markets as a whole), can be quite cyclical in nature, you may only have a window of a year or so where your chances are optimal to make a lateral move.

To keep up to speed on demand in your sector in order to properly time your lateral move, your best resource is going to be a solid legal recruiter, because a huge part of a recruiter's job is to watch trends in the market.

Other resources include legal publications that track significant court cases or new laws that can have a large impact on particular sectors, and watching for significant developments in the business world. A good example of this trend that involves both developments in the business world as well as developments in jurisprudence is the rise and fall in demand for patent litigation over the course of the last three to four years.

The tech industry has been booming lately, with significant new developments happening across the board, and most specifically in the context of computer and cell phone technology, as well as software and web applications. Consequently, there was a huge surge in demand for patent prosecutors and litigators with computer or engineering-related backgrounds to service the tech sector clients who now had exponential revenues to protect.

Very recently, however, there has been a significant downturn in patent litigation hiring, even in these technology sectors. This isn't because the technology sector has seen a drop-off in business. On the contrary, companies like Apple are enjoying their largest sales and market cap to date, and many successful tech start-ups are being bought and sold for amounts ranging into the multiple billions of dollars. So if you were simply looking at the business side of things, you would be scratching your head as to the reason for the decline in demand.

So what was driving this decline in demand for patent litigators in 2014?Sometimes you just have to take a guess, but in this instance, we can point to a very specific development, namely a recent study published by Unified Patents, an entity whose business is based on fighting allegedly frivolous patent suits. The study found that there had been a 23% reduction in patent suits between the second and third quarters of this year. This follows on the heels of data from legal analytics firm Lex Machina , who found a 40% year-on-year decrease in patent suits from September 2013 to September 2014.

Both entities largely attribute the decline to the recent Supreme Court Alice v. CLS decision (which severely weakened the protection for software or business method patents), and the America Invents Act, which shifted the patent regime from First-to-Invent to First-Inventor-to-File.

This is one specific case example of a new decision or law causing a decrease in demand for legal services in a particular sector, and there are of course similar cases where a new law or court decision will increase legal activity (and thus demand for attorneys) in another practice sector (the uptick in demand for healthcare attorneys in the wake of the Affordable Care Act comes to mind).

While it is important for us legal recruiters to keep track of these developments to gauge demand and get ahead of the recruiting curve for various sectors and legal markets, it is equally important for you as a practicing attorney to take note of trends in the legal sector, and to plan your career moves and decisions about your practice focus accordingly. If you have any questions about the state of the market or the ideal time for you to make your own lateral move, you can always get in touch with one of us here at BCG.

Summary: Here's how you can tell whether your skills are in demand in the current market.

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Legal Career Q & A      Trends In The Legal Sector      Lateral Move      Attorney Skills      State Of The Market      Lateral Hiring     

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