The legal market in Austin, like most other professions, is directly tied to the overall economy of the area. Austin is on fire…again! In the past 18 months – yes, during the pandemic – companies like Tesla, Oracle and Apple all made announcements regarding huge expansions of their smaller presence in Austin.
Tesla’s new Gigafactory is anticipating hiring 10-15K people. In additional to legal, these new hires will include engineers, R&D, supply chain and others. Oracle relocated their headquarters from Redwood, California to Austin in December 2020, and Apple broke ground on their $1 Billion campus in 2020 with initial plans to hire 5,000 new employees – in addition to the 7,000 who already work in Austin. The new Apple campus has the capacity to house 15,000 employees. These companies employ large legal departments and numerous law firms providing outside counsel.
Economic Forecast for Austin Hiring
Highly respected economist, Angelos Angelou, founder of an Austin-based economic development consulting firm, said last year that cities with the strongest economies at the start of the pandemic will, of course, recover the quickest. That is certainly the case with Austin. Strong going in and we have been seeing extensive signs of recovery and even growth.
For many years, Austin’s legal and business communities focused on The University of Texas and state agency work. This has evolved into technology focused businesses with large legal departments and outside counsel with teams supporting them. Law firms such as AmLaw 100 Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pitman have practice groups focusing on tech related matters such as Data Privacy, Blockchain and venture capital for technology start-ups.
Moves that Smaller Law Firms are Making
Numerous smaller law firms spun-off from large groups, including Kastner Gravelle, a 15-attorney firm comprised of mostly former big-law attorneys. Much of the focus of this firm is working with emerging growth and established companies primarily in the software and technology sectors — e-commerce, SaaS and software, managed services, professional services, mobile, social, marketplace, energy, medical device, and life sciences industries.
During the dot.com boom of the late 1990’s, Austin saw an influx of Palo Alto based firms such as Brobeck Phleger & Harrison and Wilson Sonsini Goodrich Rosati. These firms shook things up a bit, offering legal secretaries and paralegals compensation that was 10-20% above the Austin market. Brobeck eventually imploded and Wilson Sonsini remains an active player in the tech law market.
Population and Practice Areas are Booming
According to Bloomberg Businessweek, Austin grew 30% from 2010 to 2019, making it the fastest-growing major metro area in the country. It was adding about 170 people per day by the end of that period, according to the latest census count. So while rapid growth is nothing new for the city, the population shift associated with Covid-19 has intensified the struggle to maintain some of its college town and nerdy/ cool technology vibe, making it more and more difficult to “Keep Austin Weird.”
Types of “hot practices” ebb & flow with the economy. During recessions or other challenging economic times, like 2020, we see an upswing in litigation. During more prosperous times, we see corporate, real estate and related work grow as companies are spending money and making deals. Litigation is still a hot commodity in Austin. Mid-level associates (3-6 years’ experience) are in high demand. Corporate work is beginning a slow climb out of a difficult year.