Both in terms of population growth and economic clout, Texas has enjoyed significant development in recent years. In terms of residents, World Population Review shows that the Lone Star State has become the third-fastest grower with an increase of 20.68 percent since 2010. Its GDP growth has outstripped its population over the same period according to Forbes with an increase of 36.3 percent.
Such dramatic change has likewise impacted individual cities, and the Austin Business Journal reports that Austin was scheduled to enjoy an annual increase of 4.3 percent in 2022, and KXAN noted that Austin was the second-fastest growing city in the nation. The ongoing development of the area has resulted in an increase of legal jobs, as evidenced by the ABA’s most recent National Lawyer Population Survey, which showed that Texas had the third-largest population of attorneys in the United States.
This review of the state of the legal market in Austin, Texas, will detail trends such as economic growth and how it impacts legal jobs; trending practice areas; and cost of living dynamics.
Current Employment Landscape for the Legal Industry in Austin
The Texas market in general — and the Austin area in particular — remain poised for continued expansion and development in the near future. A report compiled by ALM Intelligence concluded that “Texas has a low cost of living, driven by a low individual tax burden, making the state an attractive relocation market.” The state offers opportunities to more than merely businesses, too. Texas contains 10 legal schools, half of them in the nation’s 60 best institutions and one of which is The University of Texas School of Law in Austin. As Austin expands, the legal field looks poised to enlarge with it.
Job opportunities and growth trends
In the late 2010s, Austin outstripped the rest of the United States in growth rate of legal jobs according to the Austin Business Journal. That increase in legal positions hasn’t stopped. The top 51 law firms in Austin reported a greater than 4 percent rise in the number of employed attorneys. Whereas in previous years employment opportunities were limited to a handful of large firms and in-house practice with either state offices or The University of Texas. The changing economic landscape has opened up other possibilities and seems like it will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. More firms have made Austin their home, and an influx of tech companies has provided additional in-house options.
Job market competitiveness
An economic boom and an influx of high-tech companies have helped maintain a vibrant legal market while ensuring that it doesn’t become overly competitive. More demand exists for legal talent with distinct specializations than generalists. (Skip to the next section for additional information about the most significant areas of practice in Austin.) While remote work opportunities exist and are often centered around more clerical tasks such as transcription, pre-litigation, research, and client engagement, most openings exist on the ground in the city itself. Austin’s unique culture and thriving economy provide ample job opportunities and reasons to relocate.
“While many markets are experiencing a (welcome) slowdown to the frenzied hiring of 2021 and 2022, the Texas legal hiring market has remained strong so far in 2023. There have been very few layoffs and some law firms are still hiring transactional associates. Even more law firms are seeking litigation, compliance, and regulatory-related specialties, and in-house legal hiring remains robust in all areas.”
– Jane Pollard | Momentum Search Partners
Trending Practice Areas in Austin
Austin has a reputation for being culturally quirky, and in the early 2000s, the Austin Independent Business Alliance began promoting the area with the catchphrase “Keep Austin Weird.” However, despite its avant-garde pretensions, Austin is also deeply professional, and recent incursions by well-known technology companies such as Dell, Tesla, Apple, Advanced Micro Devices, and eBay have led to the adoption of a new slogan: “Silicon Hills.” With such advancement have come several areas of legal practice that define the Austin market.
Technology and Intellectual Property Law
Technology remains a major player in Austin, and safeguarding innovations through intellectual property law is a concomitant area of practice. Numerous attorneys have found in-house positions with tech firms, and others have focused on ensuring that their trade secrets remain protected. The Austin Intellectual Property Law Association is one such group and has provided amicus curae briefs to the United States Supreme Court in Helsinn Healthcare S.A v. Teva et al. and In re Bilski.
Real Estate and Land Use Law
Though the residential real estate market in Austin has cooled somewhat recently, prices of individual homes still remain high. Redfin reports that the area’s media house price is $536,000 compared to a national median rate of $363,000. Single-family dwellings may stay on the market for roughly two months, but they’re selling for virtually the same amount as their asking price, indicating a still-strong market. For those in the Austin legal market specializing in real estate, there’s still plenty of business. The same holds true for attorneys dealing with the legal issues surrounding land use and zoning. An expanding city necessarily will face land-focused legal issues.
Employment and Labor Law
Due to its size, geographical location, and diversity of industries, Austin contains a diverse workforce with manifold needs, some of them competing. These differences may soon be driven home by recently proposed legislature. According to bills proposed at a statewide level, Texas may soon place a field preemption on local labor codes. Whether or not this occurs, legal challenges are sure to follow and to buoy legal jobs in Austin, Texas.
Environmental and Energy Law
Austin’s commitment to environment protection and sustainability is enshrined in the city’s mission statement for its Office of Sustainability: “Protect and improve Austin’s quality of life now and for future generations by leading efforts to achieve … net-zero community-wide greenhouse gas emissions, a healthy and just local food system, [and] a climate resilient and adaptive city.” However, legal challenges exist at a local, state, and federal level, such as litigation designed to delay or stop renewable energy development due to environmental impact concerns.
Corporate and Business Law
Established corporations and eager startups both coexist in Austin, and the city’s business focus requires legal talent to help manage a variety of concerns. From business agreements and corporate formation to employment law and business litigation, opportunities are plentiful for appropriately specialized lawyers to support the city’s startup scene and manage mergers, acquisitions, and partnerships.
How Cost of Living in Austin is Changing
Austin has many economic draws for attorneys relocating from major legal markets such as New York or San Francisco. But like any city experiencing explosive growth, it is also facing inflationary pressures. In this section, we’ll discuss the ongoing changes in Austin’s cost of living.
Cost of living compared to other major cities
While Austin residents experience lower costs than those in coastal cities, the area isn’t necessarily cheap. As mentioned in a previous section, median home prices are more than a half-million dollars, significantly higher than the national average. Bankrate also notes the area’s challenging commute, stating that drivers spend 41 hours annually sitting in traffic, making Austin the seventh highest in the nation for delayed traffic. Austin enjoys an impressive foodie and arts scene, but such benefits aren’t without cost.
Quality of life factors
One main reason why Austin is one of the fastest growing legal markets is that the city offers significant quality of life benefits, such as simultaneous proximity to both city culture and natural recreational areas such forests, hiking, and lakes. Famous festivals such as SXSW, Austin City Limits, and the Austin Food + Wine Festival are nationally known. And higher education options are particularly attractive.
Impact of cost of living and quality of life on the legal market
While firms and businesses don’t usually struggle to attract attorneys to Austin due to the area’s unique character, they do have to adjust to changes in income. Even the top law firms in Austin, TX, can’t provide billable rates comparable to those offered in the most competitive markets. Still, many lawyers will find themselves willing to settle for lower amounts due to all of the benefits offered in Austin.
In short, though attorneys will find that Austin is somewhat expensive and offers lower billable-hour rates than other markets, its booming economy and vibrant culture make it incredibly attractive. If you’re considering making the move to the Lone Star State’s most intriguing city, use the Legal Recruiter Directory to connect with a recruiter who’s intimately familiar with the market.