East Coast lateral market recap 2023


The East Coast boasts some of the biggest, busiest, and brightest cities in the country, with leading legal markets to boot.

Sose Ebodaghe, December 2023

Variety really is the spice of life on the Eastern Seaboard. Prominent legal markets in Philadelphia and DC are joined by the hustle and bustle of metropolitan living in New York and more peaceful oceanfront offerings in Boston, with enough diversity between cities to suit all tastes. Though it’s no secret that lateral movement across the US has been down from the heights of 2022, hiring has since begun to pick up speed in prominent markets along the coasts. As such, we caught up with Lateral Link’s Adrienne Levi, Jonathan Birenbaum, Jennifer Anderson, and Steven Rushing to recap this year’s East Coast legal market. 



Let’s start with Boston, a beautiful water-front city that the British still haven’t forgiven for their infamous tea party (definitely not the type of tea party that Brits like to attend). Hundreds of years down the line, their harbor has since been transformed into an iconic and walkable landmark for tourists and locals alike. And if you’re a sports fan, the city is also home to the Red Sox and Fenway Park, the oldest active ballpark in the league, and the Boston Celtics too, in case basketball’s more your speed. “It’s a really fun city!” Levi affirms. “Scenically, there’s the mountains, there’s the beach… There’s so much that’s in very easy commuting distance from here. That’s something that’s very attractive to people, but I’d say a big part of it is the lifestyle! You just feel at home in a way that it’s hard to in big cities.” 

Boston does have more of a local feel, as Levi continues, “It’s compact and very walkable, which is really nice – you can get from one side of the city to another without taking any sort of public transportation.” This small-town feel extends to the city’s legal market, too. “The legal community is pretty small,” Levi describes. “Everyone knows each other, and I think that’s really attractive to people; there are a lot of people who grow up here and never leave.” 


BigLaw is being much more cautious about their hiring.”


However, this intimacy doesn’t mean that Boston isn’t home to some of the biggest players in the market. Turning to hiring activity, “Lateral associate moves at the AmLaw level are certainly down significantly from last year,” Levi explains. “BigLaw is being much more cautious about their hiring, wanting to make sure that they’re making the right decisions.” This year, the lateral spotlight has been on those smaller to mid-size firms who “are taking advantage of that because they’re not affected by the market conditions in the same way. Hiring is busy on that front,” Levi states. Overall, while associate movement hasbeen noticeably slower for firms of all sizes, partner movement has actually picked up over the past year. Levi explains, “We’re still seeing a lot of partner movement, particularly partners with significant books of business at all size firms. When it comes to associates, obviously they don’t tend to bring business, so it’s more strategic.” 

That said, all signs are pointing to an uptick in associate hiring come 2024; come the time, you’ll want to be clued up on what’s hot and what’s not. Boston isn’t particularly known for record-breaking high temperatures, but the city’s red-hot litigation practice area may just change that: “It’s by far the biggest area that’s consistently hiring at every level.” This is a marked change from corporateand IP which were the hottest practices last year, and the lack of activity for the former practice area may have something to do with the current state of the economy. “Corporate is a big area that’s been impacted,” Levi reflects, “And commercial real estate, for similar [economic] reasons, though I still feel like there’s been more corporate hiring than we would expect. It’s not like firms aren’t hiring at all – I think they’ll just continue to be selective as to who they hire.” When asked what practices would heat up in Q1 and Q2 next year, Levi’s immediate answer was bankruptcy and litigation.” Corporate, despite its slow year, also stands to pick up quite a bit come 2024, as do “more fringe areas like IP, because IP is usually big in Boston.” Conversely, Levi predicts that 2024 won’t be the year for “tax, transport & environment, and real estate” in Boston.  

So, you’re an associate and you want to lateral to Boston – what do you need? “They want to see some connection – I think firms love the story of someone returning home to be closer to family or friends, because it shows that person is likely to stay.” But what if you’re not from Boston and you just really have an affinity for the city, whether you’re a diehard Celtics fan or craving a slower-paced lifestyle? By all means, you can still throw your hat in the ring! “It doesn’t mean that if you’re a fantastic candidate coming from New York and you just like Boston that the firm wouldn’t consider you,” Levi reassures. Phew! “Although, if you’re a junior associate, the firm’s going to want to have some belief that you’re going to set up roots, and a connection to the city can show that you’re a lot more likely to do that.” 


New York 

Famous for bagels, Broadway, and banking, it’s the city that never sleeps, and the same goes for its associate market. “The concentration of the AmLaw 100 and Magic Circle firms all come together here because New York is the leader in the banking industry,” Birenbaum asserts. “It’s the hub of the legal world in the United States.” It’s true – the legal market has been less impacted by post-pandemic hiring trends than its fellow East Coast peers. The Big Apple’s market has slowed down in the past year, but it hasn’t quite grinded to a halt, so hungry laterals are more than welcome to take a bite! “If you’re an associate in New York and looking to make a move, you’re in the right place,” Birenbaum assures. “If you have the skillset and want to come to New York to try it out, whether you’re based in the US or abroad, it’s a good time to do that too.” Timing really is everything when making a lateral move, and there’s no time like the present to get your start in New York, especially with recent compensation increases – Milbank and Cravath, we’re looking at you. “If you’re an attorney and you’re earning $225,000 in New York City, yes, your cost of living might be high, but you’re going to have a very enjoyable quality of life here,” Birenbaum underlines. 

In 2023, New York has seen activity in numerous practices, namely corporate and litigation work, which encompasses the capital markets and investment management work that the city’s firms are known for. “Within the paradigm of corporate law, you’re going to see continued demand,” Birenbaum predicts. “Litigation in an uncertain economy is certainly prevalent, and you can see plenty going on, including within the cryptocurrency sub-market where you’ve got these companies that are in bankruptcy, and you’ve got investors who have lost funds in there.” There has also been “a good amount of activity in the bankruptcy practice area, particularly with retailers and franchises in the US having some issues,” although it was expected at the beginning of this year that there would be more heat there. This is a product of the market slowing down nationwide, though: “There was so much more movement, maybe twice as much in the corporate area, in 2022 as there has been in 2023. There’s still activity, it’s just that it’s toned down because of the tail-off of the pandemic activity.” Birenbaum also shares that construction litigation and real estate, which “continues to be incredibly important” in the Big Apple where real estate remains king, have seen “reasonably solid” demand over the last year. 


“There’s no one area that’s going to be more important than corporate in New York.”


So, what’s in store for NYC in 2024? “There’s no one area that’s going to be more important than corporate in New York. Simply based on what the demand is now, I have no reason not to believe that corporate will still be hot,” Birenbaum predicts. Banking is also another area that is projected see “steady, consistent demand”, as well as capital markets, M&A, and investment management – all corporate subspecialties.  Additionally, “the commercial litigation that flows from all of that is going to happen; you’re just always going to have it. I think commercial litigation will stay hot,” says Birenbaum. Alternatively, “I can’t predict where bankruptcy is going to go,” he adds. “There are currently 23 bankruptcy openings in New York, but most of them are with larger firms.” After admitting it can be difficult to look into the market’s future with certainty, Birenbaum continues, “Corporate litigation and IP all have a good amount of demand right now, but labor & employment might tick up a little bit too. We’re seeing this new law in New York state where you’re now permitted to bring sexual assault claims before this new statute of limitations closes, so you’re seeing some high-profile lawsuits coming down the pipe.”  

As for lateral movement in the city, a wide variety of firms are hiring, with the vast majority of laterals moving in AmLaw 100 firms – particularly in corporate departments. Birenbaum offers some insight into this: “If increasing your income is important to you, you’ve obtained good training, developed good skills at a mid-size or AmLaw 200 firm, and you’re looking to jump to an AmLaw 100, there is every reason to believe you can do this.” But due to the nature of the current market, “every firm is selective,” so you have to be 100% sure about the move you’re looking to make.  



“There’s just a ton of opportunity here!” Anderson enthuses.This comes as no surprise for the city fondly dubbed the “Athens of America” (a moniker given post-Revolution): it’s a city bursting with vibrant culture and history, as well as several shiny, big-name law firms. Despite being one of the biggest cities in the country, Philadelphia is considered a secondary legal market – smaller than many of its East Coast counterparts – but that doesn’t mean that there are any less “truly top-notch, excellent firms and incredibly strong regional firms” in America’s Garden Capital.  


“Posted positions are coming in with some regularity…”


The past year has moved at snail-pace in Philadelphia too, as Anderson informs us: “It has been very, very slow over the last six to nine months… In past years, we’ve been successful taking a highly skilled associate and marketing them to a firm that doesn’t necessarily have an opening, but where they might be a good fit. That just hasn’t worked for the last while.” There is a light at the end of this tunnel, though. “That’s all changing, and it’s encouraging!” she enthuses. “Posted positions are coming in with some regularity for the first time in a while, and we keep hearing from firms that they’re feeling optimistic and expect hiring to tick back up soon.” The most movement has been for mid-level associates who are being snatched up by regional and boutique firms. “We’re still not seeing the hiring among top firms that we would expect to see,” Anderson details. “There is a smattering of them, but still not as much as you’d expect.” 

The market has been lukewarm this year; IP and antitrust work has been bringing heat to Philly, but there’s no one standout practice that’s been warming up. “There’s been disparate openings across practices,” Anderson details of the hiring slowdown, though with the city’s proximity to a lucrative life sciences scene, it’s likely that that’s where we’ll see movement picking up steam. “We have a number of life sciences and pharmaceutical companies just outside the city – it really is a very hot practice area for us here in Philadelphia, and it will continue to be,” Anderson explains. Looking towards the upcoming year, there’s no clear vision in the crystal ball for 2024. “I think it’s uncertain,” Anderson contemplates. “We’re hearing from firms that it’s more registered funds, maybe some corporate work coming back, but I think it’s still an open question where people hire.” What seems to be certain for Philadelphia, though, is that “there really does seem to be optimism that things are going to change or are even changing now.” 


Washington DC

Home to much more than the White House and the National Mall (not a place for shopping – sorry! – but rather where the statue of Abraham Lincoln has been sitting pretty for over 100 years), Washington DC is undeniably the political landmark of the country, but also a bustling legal hub for big and small firms alike with “the highest number of AmLaw firms in the country.” Sounds like a big city! “Most people assume that it is!” Rushing laughs. “It’s a smaller but incredibly livable city, and you can actually live, whether it be Northern Virginia or Maryland, across the border.” The commute is a piece of cake, too, with a “very reliable” metro that takes you right into the heart of the city. While DC isn’t quite the size of the Big Apple, it’s got its finger right on the pulse of the country’s political landscape; historically, litigation, antitrust, and trade workhas been huge, whether that is white-collar litigation, export controls, or national security matters. But that’s not all: “DC has so many DC-specific practice areas that you can’t really find anywhere else in the country.”   


“During the various recessions that happened in the past, DC grew – not only as a city, but as a legal environment as well.”  


The city has a little bit of something for everyone, so why would you ever want to leave? It’s simple: you won’t! “If you’re going to do antitrust work, yes, you can go back to California, but the number of opportunities is so much more limited. If you’re doing patent litigation, yes, you can go to Chicago or Dallas, but it’s more limited. That niche aspect of DC means that most people who lateral stay in the city,” Rushing underscores.And with the looming threat of a recession on the horizon, Rushing tells us that “DC in general has been somewhat recession-proof over the years because it’s so dependent on the government for most of the industry. And during the various recessions that happened in the past, DC grew – not only as a city, but as a legal environment as well.”  

Impressive, right? So, what has the city’s lateral market looked like in the past year? “This summer was epically slow, almost historically so,” Rushing admits, going on to highlight the newfound selective nature of firms. “Firms are being much, much pickier, sometimes even retracting offers. We’ve had to set associate expectations, because we’re actually much closer to what normal life was like before COVID – things just take longer.” The lateral market was booming post-pandemic, with associates often receiving next-day interview callbacks and juggling multiple offers from their top firms. Now, it might take two or three weeks for firms to make an offer, instead of feeling pressured to offer immediately. Rushing explains how this is affecting potential laterals: “It’s harder for associates, because they need to balance the timeline. They might get an offer from a firm that they’re pretty interested in, but maybe they started late with the firm they’re most interested in – so do you take the offer, or do you risk it and decline?” But, unlike previous years, the firms that are hiring in DC – mainly BigLaw – are looking for mid-level and senior associates, which is different because “seniors typically have a more limited number of opportunities.” According to Rushing, “a lot of partners haven’t felt as if the juniors who were remote have had the same kind of training, so they’re more interested in hiring somebody that they don’t have to train.” 

As for what’s hot in DC right now, aside from the typical litigation, antitrust, and trade work, the most active job postings are in “areas that you wouldn’t expect.” The first is patent prosecution, especially on the life sciences side. This is decidedly unexpected, as life sciences is typically a more Boston-oriented specialty while DC leans towards electrical and mechanical matters for patent work. The other practice area on the rise is corporate work, mainly finance and M&A, in BigLaw and a lot of second-tier firms as well. But looking ahead, Rushing anticipates that come Q1 and Q2 of 2024, it’s antitrust, trade, and litigation(the staples of DC) that will stick as the most popular practice areas. There’s also hope that the transactional side of things will start to pick back up next year. “Oftentimes, the transactional side of law firms drives the entire revenue for a firm,” Rushing explains. “They’ll hire more because they generate more revenue, and we’ve been told all year long that we know it’s coming. There are some firms right now that are actively trying to hire on the transactional side because not only do they foresee the work coming and they don’t want to be caught flat-footed in terms of getting talent, but they are actually having the work come in.” 



Rushing also gives us a little bit of insight into the Miami market, with the hottest areas currently being cross-border finance, litigation, and finance work within the renewable energy space. “There’s definitely been a lot of movement over the past couple years. Firms have been opening offices in Miami, mostly on the transactional side,” he explains. “But if you want to make a move to Miami, you need to have the experience; you can’t really change practice areas, and you need to have some connection to Florida. But firms are interested in getting strong talent to fill their new offices, whether it be Sidley, Cooley, or Kirkland.”