Just about every day Stephen Stitle, managing partner at SmithAmundsen LLC in Indianapolis, gets a phone call from another law firm asking how his office has been able to grow.
Since opening in the Circle City in 2013 with five attorneys, the office has grown to 23 lawyers, eight non-attorneys and seven practice groups. Also, Stitle said for the past two or three years, the office’s revenue has been doubling.
A key to the Indianapolis office’s success has been experience, specifically the kind that comes from enticing established attorneys to jump to SmithAmundsen. The Chicago-based firm has relied overwhelmingly on lateral hires to grow its offices around the Midwest, including in Indianapolis.
SmithAmundsen isn’t alone. Since the Great Recession, many law firms have been opting to hire attorneys with experience rather than law school graduates. Major, Lindsey & Africa, a legal talent recruiting firm, saw lateral hiring explode in 2015. Its just-released report, “BigLaw 2017: A Look Ahead,” is predicting the trend will remain strong among elite firms and possibly accelerate this year.
Ron Nye, managing partner of MLA’s Chicago office, sees the pace of lateral hiring being driven by market demands.
Corporate clients nationwide are outsourcing less of their legal work and shortening their lists of law firms they will ask for help. Firms are responding by bringing in experienced attorneys to broaden the expertise available in the office, not only to keep these clients but also to get assigned more sophisticated transactions and cases.
Conversely, the changes a firm may make to survive could, as Nye explained, cause some attorneys to consider different opportunities elsewhere. Pressure to raise rates, a conflict of interest that develops and impacts a key client, or just having a practice that has outgrown the firm are all reasons lawyers eye other firms.
“I think attorneys have become much better about managing their careers so they are much more willing to look at opportunity or take a meeting than they were pre-recession,” Nye said.