As the third-largest legal market in the United States, Chicago is the economic and cultural hub of the Midwest region. Home to 16 Fortune 500 companies, the “Windy City” features a robust economy fueled by sectors that include technology, transportation, financial services, and manufacturing.
As one of the biggest legal markets in the nation, Chicago-based law firms and in-house corporate legal departments have historically had the inside track on rising talent. But within the past decade, many East and West Coast-based firms have established satellite offices here.
In addition to heightened competition, this trend has driven billable hour requirements and practice expectations to previously unseen levels outside cities like New York City, Washington, DC, and Los Angeles.
Where the Legal Market Currently Stands
According to a report from the Center on Ethics and the Legal Profession at the Georgetown University Law Center and The Thomson Reuters Institute, the COVID-19 Pandemic of 2020-21 has forced legal employers to rethink how they manage their operations, deliver legal services, and treat their employees— including those in Chicago.
During the pandemic’s early days, many law firms used the extra time to focus more attention on issues like work-life balance, employee health and wellness, and staff training. The average employer also learned that working from home caused little disruption as technology budgets grew and in-person meetings declined.
The past two years also saw a reduction in partner draws, fee earner salaries, and the salaries paid to support staff at many mid-to-large-sized firms across the Chicagoland area.
What We’re Expecting in 2022
What about the Chicago legal market in 2022? Whether it’s navigating an economic recession or global pandemic, lawyers tend to be a very resilient bunch. Change is the only constant in the legal field.
During the upcoming year, expect these trends to reshape Chicago’s legal landscape:
Baby Boomer Impact
Baby boomers remain one of the largest of all generations. As they continue to retire in large numbers, this growing client base will impact the legal field by creating new practice opportunities in specialty areas focused on retirement.
Legal procedures like discovery can be time-consuming and complicated. Efforts are now in place to streamline the legal discovery process using new technology.
Legal Process Outsourcing
Law firms are constantly searching for ways to improve efficiency and reduce operational costs. Legal process outsourcing (LPO) can be a significant cost-saving measure. Instead of dedicated internal resources, discrete legal services are transferred to local lawyers, external companies, or paraprofessionals.
Limits on Billable Hours
Traditionally, lawyers have been expected to bill at least 1950 hours a year to earn a top salary, which sometimes causes work/life balance concerns. Legally limiting the number of hours an associate must bill in a year may soon become a reality. If so, those changes will impact the associates’ lives at some of the nation’s top firms, including those in Chicago.
Practice Area Shifts in Chicago
As 2022 unfolds, there will also be a heightened demand for Chicago lawyers in these practice areas:
Data Privacy & Cybersecurity
As much of the working world has moved online, cybersecurity attacks have skyrocketed. In response, various enterprises are developing new regulations to protect their stakeholders’ private information. As more consumer data protection laws are passed, it will drive the need for updated legal counsel and implementation support.
Upheavals to everyday work routines have opened the floodgates for employment-related lawsuits. Employers and employees will need more lawyers to fill those gaps.
The past two years have been challenging for some businesses, notably those who compete in volatile economic sectors. Other companies are still having a hard time recovering from the financial hit they took back in 2020.
Either way, bankruptcy rates have remained above average over the last 24 months. In 2022, business owners will continue to seek legal advice and guidance when filing for bankruptcy.
Mergers & Acquisitions (M&A)
With the pandemic wreaking havoc on global markets, it’s no surprise that companies have restructured more than usual. Next year, areas of law that overlap with M&A should stay busy as a result.
“In 2021 we witness a ferocious snapback to the bloodletting of 2020. Hiring was strong in every month and many candidates had multiple competing offers from which to choose. We enter 2022 with a healthy backlog and job opportunities across the board in corporate and litigation with firms ranging from large to small. With are hopeful with the current blinking green economic indicators and lack of immediate exogenous concerns, that these trends will continue throughout the year. While the holidays and year-end are typically times of self-assessment and goal setting, 2022 presents a unique opportunity to act, and with proper guidance find an ideal long-term platform.”Rob McAndrew, Atticus Recruiting
Recruiting Outlook and Emerging Hiring Trends
Any way you slice it, the historically robust legal market in Chicago should continue to experience growth throughout 2022. Employers and recruitment firms will spend more time online taking full advantage of emerging digital recruiting technologies to attract, engage, and place talented candidates.
At Deep Footprint, the agency behind the Legal Recruiter Directory, we specialize in results-driven digital marketing solutions for legal headhunters, law firms, and legal placement firms.
Helping those we serve to realize higher client engagement and conversion rates is something we excel at every day. The Legal Recruiter Directory also provides online support that allows legal recruiters to place talented active or passive attorney candidates with prestigious law firms and corporations so that all parties win.