Last week, Texas Monthly summarized the results of a new report from Citi Private Bank’s Law Firm Group, that showed that demand at Texas law firms dropped by 7.1 percent the first half of 2016. (See “Texas Firms See Greatest Drop in Demand in First Half of 2016” by Brenda Jeffreys.)
The Citi survey findings differed significantly from another recent report, the Thomson Reuters’ Peer Monitor Index, which just the week before last, Texas Monthly had summarized in another article. (See “Southwest Firms Defied Legal Demand Drop” by Brenda Jeffreys, published August 9, 2016.) The Thomson Reuters’ report indicates that the Southwest region of the United States, which includes Texas, bucked the trend of otherwise declining demand for the first two quarters of 2016 by reporting an uptick in hours billed of 1.1 percent. Productivity also improved in the Southwest Region, by .7 percent.
The Thomson Reuters statistics were supported by informal reports from the managing partners of four large Texas-based firms (Locke Lord, Jackson Walker, Bracewell, and Porter Hedges), each of whom reported to Texas Monthly a slight increase in demand, driven by litigation, restructuring work in the energy sector, real estate, and bankruptcy.
Our workload at Momentum certainly reflects what these managing partners, and the Thomson Reuters’ report, indicated. Our attorney searches from and overall placements in the first half of 2016 were slightly higher than the same period from 2015, and have been skewed towards litigation and restructuring-related roles, both for in-house roles and in law firms. In addition, we have seen continued strong demand for niche specialty roles for in-house positions, specifically those related to compliance, healthcare, I.P., and employment law. Our legal staffing openings (paralegals and legal assistants) have been even more skewed towards supporting litigation practices than our attorney searches.
What we have seen is a lessening decline for corporate transactional lawyers, as law firms fear a decline in transactional work and show reluctance to add to their ranks in these areas. Perhaps this is why Texas firms reported an increase in productivity for the first half of 2016, according to the Thomson Reuters survey. Corporate groups remain busy with restructuring work and transactions related to the drop in oil, but as they remain cautious about adding headcount, existing lawyers at the firms are having to bill more hours to compensate for the 1% drop in headcount that the Citi report indicated for Texas Law Firms.
One thing is sure, however. As the Citi survey indicated, firms with strong litigation and bankruptcy practices are bullish on 2016, while firms with large capital markets or transactional practices are not as optimistic about 2016.