While the COVID-19 pandemic has inarguably impacted the legal landscape in Texas, it has far from dulled the Lone Star State’s shiny appeal. Since 2015, a substantial number of firms have established a presence in the state, and this past year has been no exception. In April 2021, Kirkland & Ellis opened an office in Austin — its third office to date in Texas. June saw the Los Angeles-founded O’Melveny & Myers and Seattle-based Perkins Coie set up satellite locations in Austin, as did Silicon Valley tech firm Gunderson Dettmer in April and Latham & Watkins in August. In Dallas, O’Melveny and Quinn Emmanuel both have established offices.
Why is BigLaw laying down roots in Texas? For one thing, the clients are everywhere. There has been an influx of corporate relocations over the last few years — more than 300, in fact. Today, 95 Fortune 1000 corporations are headquartered in the state, with 41% focused on the energy industry. This growth can be attributed to Texas’ generally low taxes, business-friendly regulations and large and diverse economy, not to mention state-offered financial incentives and tax breaks.
For out-of-state firms that set up offices in Texas, lower operating costs and lower-than-average billing rates offer a distinct competitive advantage. All of this coupled with a low attorney saturation rate makes AmLaw 200 and NLJ 500 firms well-positioned to grow their presence.
THE MARKETS AT A GLANCE
For many people, Texas conjures up images of searing temperatures, world-class BBQ and live country music. However, it is not all cowboy hats and rodeos. This sizeable state features a surprisingly diverse economy that is appealing to both law firm partners and their clients. Attorneys have the opportunity to engage in everything from ground-floor start-up work to sophisticated collaborations with Fortune 500 companies.
HOUSTON: ENERGY’S HEARTLAND
Houston’s energy industry fuels a sizeable portion of the legal work there, in both litigation and corporate, and there is a substantial amount of intellectual property work as well. Houston is also home to numerous media and entertainment production companies. Healthcare, biomedical research and aerospace make up large portions of the city’s economy as well.
DALLAS: A HAVEN FOR HEADQUARTERS
The Dallas/Fort Worth region is home to over 20 corporate headquarters — certainly one of the largest corporate concentrations in the country. Real estate, financial services and banking, IP and transactions and M&A work tend to be strong in this legal market. The city’s major industries also include healthcare, accommodation and food services.
AUSTIN: HIGH-TECH MAGNET CITY
Home to Oracle, SpaceX, Palantir and many start-ups, this growing tech hub has become one of the hottest relocation destinations for tech talent during the COVID crisis. Weary of California’s high taxes, exorbitant cost of living and gruelling commutes, tech companies have been fleeing to Texas from Silicon Valley. Austin’s top industries also include life sciences, advanced manufacturing and clean technology and like Houston, it is home to plenty of media production companies — a major growth area in the state in recent years.
Beyond its strong economy and healthy legal market, there are a range of other reasons for partners and associates to make a beeline for this southern state:
Shortage of lawyers: Texas has the third-lowest lawyer per capita of the 10 most populous states and falls below the national average. This low attorney saturation means that firms and businesses are now waging a fierce competition for talent. For young, talented corporate/M&A partners, this means there is an opportunity to move and then build your client base. For senior associates, the path to partnership is more accessible.
Large-market compensation scale: In Texas, all of the large firms pay national scale, so you can make as much in Houston as you did in New York City. Additionally, compared to other legal hotbeds like California and New York, your dollar will stretch much further in Texas as far as housing, food, transportation, personal insurance and healthcare are concerned.
Geographically diverse candidates are welcomed: In other regions of the country, law firms typically prefer candidates with ties to the area. In Texas, not so much. The concept of “southern hospitality” is not a myth. Whether you are moving here to be with family, or you just have a burning passion for great food, you will be welcomed with open arms.
Work-life balance: There is also a family-friendly culture imbued in the Texas legal market. You will likely find that many lawyers at the mid-level, senior and partner level also have families, so flexibility is already woven into the workplace culture.
IS THE TEXAS LEGAL MARKET RIGHT FOR YOU?
Law firms across Texas’s major markets are actively looking to relocate well-qualified attorneys. Law firms regularly ask me to relocate partners to follow their clients.
There are compelling reasons to head to Texas, from diverse, sophisticated work to its ultra-affordable lifestyle. Do your research, talk to those who live in the area and even go for a visit to discover your next opportunity.