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Nontraditional Niche Practice Areas All the Rave in the 2017 Legal Market
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Summary: The BCG Attorney Search Annual Report discovered a new trend in which practice areas were sought after this year.

Law firms turn to legal recruiters when they have a need. Generally, only the largest law firms have such a great need that they need legal recruiters to help them find candidates. This year that trend changed to include law firms of all sizes. While attorneys in the common practice areas like corporate and litigation were still sought after, attorneys practicing in less popular, non-traditional niche practice areas were highly sought after this year for a change. BCG Attorney Search’s 2018 State of the American Lateral Law Firm Legal Market Report looked at the data to learn which practice areas saw the greatest growth during 2017.


When comparing niche practice areas to more mainstream practices like litigation, corporate and even real estate, there are generally fewer positions available because the teams are smaller. Corporate and litigation bring in the majority of a law firm’s income, so firms have more attorneys working on those cases. A law firm is not going to place a lot of attorneys on a bankruptcy team simply because that practice area does not make up for the cost.

Niche practice areas are considered to be employment, health care, ERISA, executive compensation, bankruptcy, immigration, tax, and trusts and estates. Large law firms generally do not rely on these practice areas to bring in the big bucks, but instead, to act as a supplement. There is usually a smaller team of attorneys that handle matters that fall into these categories.

There are a number of other non-traditional niche practice areas that even fewer law firms will handle. These include antitrust, intellectual property litigation, white collar crime, environmental law, telecommunications, food and drug law, patent law, data privacy, international trade, government law, trademark and copyright, and more. These practice areas typically generate an even lower percentage of revenue for average, full-service law firms.

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While the more common niche practices saw a drop in the number of interviews and placements in 2017, the nontraditional niche practices saw just the opposite. Interviews saw an 18 percent increase from 2016, and there was a nearly 27 percent increase in placements from 2016. IP litigation, patent law, and patent litigation are the only non-traditional niche practice areas that have not seen much activity, so removing them from the mix made the numbers jump even more. Now there is a 120 percent increase over 2016 in the number of placements and a 73 percent jump in the number of interviews.

The reason these nontraditional practice areas are doing so well is they require specialized knowledge. Fewer attorneys are willing to take the time to learn what is needed to work in these nontraditional niche practices, so there are fewer attorneys in those fields. Attorneys with these special skills are more marketable to the law firms that have work in those areas, making things like experience and educational qualifications less important. Law firms are more concerned with getting an attorney that is good in the specific practice area to take on their work.

Another reason these special practices areas are in demand right now is that law firms are receiving recurring work from their institutional clients in those areas. Other practice areas may have the work finish and go away. Litigation cases settle, interest rates can affect real estate work, and so on. When law firms have recurring work, there is no risk in hiring an attorney for that specialized work that keeps coming in. A strong economy allows clients to keep sending firms work that they may not send in a more down economy.

To learn more about niche practice areas, read these articles:


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