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Weakest Practice Areas of 2017
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Summary: What are the weakest legal practice areas of 2017?

Read the full report by Harrison Barnes here: The BCG Attorney Search 2017 State of the American Lateral Law Firm Legal Market Report.


For any attorney wanting to make a lateral move, it is important to understand the legal market. Especially for 2017. This year, a major shift is expected, according to industry expert Harrison Barnes of BCG Attorney Search. Using proprietary hiring data, Barnes released an analysis of this year’s legal market, and he found that certain areas such as real estate, corporate generalists, and litigation generalists were in less demand than specialists. Those weaker practices were slowing in most major and smaller markets.

“Through my work at BCG Attorney Search, I participate in or oversee the placement of thousands of attorneys each year in firms throughout the country,” Barnes said. “I watch our candidates go through every stage of the job search process—from submitting applications, to going to interviews, to accepting offers. By closely observing this process and the trends that reveal themselves, I am able to get a profound understanding of the legal market and what is in demand in markets and practice areas across the nation.”

Barnes said that he noticed a high demand for attorneys with niche specialities such as ESIRA/Employment and Healthcare, and he saw a low demand for generalists.

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“The demand for attorneys in mainstream niche practice areas is taking off like crazy,” Barnes said. “From placements to interviews, there is far more activity in mainstream niche practice areas and it is increasing. The increase in this activity seems to indicate that the clients of law firms have more need for and are more willing to pay for specialists than they are willing to pay for generalists.”

For 2017, Intellectual Property—Litigation attorneys will face hardships, Barnes concluded. Because of changes in IP, there is less work for attorneys, which has resulted in the layoff of associates and partners.

“A great deal of the slowdown has come as a result of the Supreme Court’s ruling in Alice Corp. v. CLS Bank International (2014), which held “that certain business methods, previously thought to be patentable, are not.” This has slowed the work of patent trolls significantly, led to layoffs, reduced work, and created tremendous competition for the few jobs that there are,” Barnes said.

Telecommunications is another weak practice area this year. Barnes said that it is a weak area that has been declining since 2001.

Other weak areas include: 

So what does that mean for non-specialist attorneys? According to Barnes, generalists are going to have a hard time in 2017. To counter this obstacle, attorneys in general practices should look to non-competitive markets.

“The bright spot in all of this is that generalists are, of course, marketable—but they often have to avoid the largest markets,” Barnes said. “Returning to smaller markets where they might have grown up or have connections helps alleviate the pressures of supply and demand—if they are trying to work in smaller markets where there are few people like them they are likely to do far better. The law of supply and demand governs everything. Attorneys succeed when they move to markets where there are fewer attorneys like them competing for the same jobs.”

What do you think about this list of weak practice areas? Let us know in the comments below. 


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