Is the lateral market in Texas really hotter than a $2 pistol at an all night shoot out?
It’s never a bad idea to have your finger on the pulse of the lateral market. Below is a look back at the Texas market for Q1 of 2015 and an overview of Q2 trends. You can connect with me on LinkedIn to receive regular updates on the market including un-posted jobs and helpful articles on associate compensation, career progression and the soft skills needed to set you apart.
Q1 LATERAL MOVES
According to reported data, approximately 13 lateral associate moves have been made in Dallas and 12 in Houston. Both cities saw the most traffic in corporate with Houston firms showing additional spikes in their energy, L&E and IP practices.
Q2 HIRING OUTLOOK
Dallas has approximately 30 associate openings with 30% of those needs falling under the Corporate practice area umbrella. Other trending practice areas in Dallas include IP and Litigation.
Houston presently has 42 associate openings. Over 35% of the openings are corporate associate positions. An additional 14% of the demand is for transactional associates with energy sector expertise. In addition to corporate and energy, IP is also an in demand practice area in Houston.
PRACTICE AREA TRENDS
Corporate practices continue to eclipse all other practice areas—particularly for mid-levels.
2014 was a banner year for IPO’s, outperforming global indices by around 12.3% on average, totaling US$256.5b of capital raised. Projections for 2015 are muted slightly due to market volatility but this is not estimated to have a seismic impact on investors. The lateral market will reflect this activity with a continued demand for Securities and Capital Markets associates.
M&A will remain strong. While low interest rates were a major driver behind M&A deals in 2014, the increasing market volatility in 2015 should prompt companies to follow a multi-track strategy. A multi-track process is the course of action by which a company concurrently pursues a trade sale or a joint venture transaction and an IPO. A multi-track process is intended to provide the benefits of increased leverage, leading to a maximization of value; multiple exit options that provide insurance against unsuccessful sale attempts and volatile market conditions; and overlap in diligence materials, fostering efficient use of resources. According to research conducted by Ernst & Young for their Q4 Capital Confidence Barometer, 80% of companies are considering undertaking M&A activity in 2015. E&Y expects the use of global PE cash reserves, (which stood at US$468.1b at the end of November 2014—the highest level since 2008), to continue to fuel multi-track momentum. This will continue to drive the need for associates with M&A, Private Equity and Joint Venture Fund experience.
WHAT THIS MEANS FOR YOU:
Junior associates: 2nd and 3rd year associates who may have labored in vain to find lateral positions in the past have become very marketable due to the increased demand. If you are a junior corporate associate and have avoided exploring the lateral market due to your level, this should not be a hindrance.
Mid-level associates: If you are a 2009 – 2012 corporate associate in Texas, you know how it feels to be the prettiest girl at the dance. Demand still far exceeds supply for mid-level Corporate associates across all areas. You will have considerable options in the market in 2015.
Senior associate: We are actually seeing some demand for seasoned associates due to thriving corporate practices and increased fluidity in the lateral market. In addition, partnership prospects will likely remain strongest in Corporate practices.
Oil and Texas are intrinsically connected like the chicken and the egg. Demand for attorneys handling mergers, acquisitions, divestitures, joint ventures and IPO’s for energy companies and their investors has maintained its firm grip on the market. An eagerness for capital in the midstream and upstream sectors continues and plenty of private equity cash has been and will continue to be put to work as the demand for new pipelines, new drilling wells, new processing plants and other assets stays strong.
With this climate comes a continued need for Energy Associates with expertise in the oil and gas sector. More specifically, firms are looking for associates with LNG or upstream (E&P), midstream (pipeline or processing) or downstream (refinery, petchem) energy experience, with particular emphasis on M&A or project development. In addition, firms are gearing up for a boom in cross-border work in Latin America as Mexico opens its oil and gas reserves for exploration and production to private foreign investors for the first time in over seventy-five years. With this development, associates with Spanish language skills and previous cross-border deal experience will be highly valued.
WHAT THIS MEANS FOR YOU:
Entry-level associates: If you are interested in the energy sector, carving out niche expertise in this space will provide you with marketable skills and interesting work. Top firms in Texas when it comes to energy deals: Vinson Elkins, Latham Watkins, Bracewell & Giuliani, Baker Botts, Andrews Kurth, Simpson Thatcher and Thompson Knight.
Mid–level associates: The bulk of Energy associate needs remains at the mid-level. If you are a mid-level associate, you are highly marketable.
Senior associate: There is some demand for senior associates with oil and gas expertise. If you are a senior associate with extensive oil and gas experience and you are feeling platform restricted or otherwise unable to grow, it may be time to explore the lateral market.
The Supreme Court’s recent decision in Alice Corp., along with other changes in law favoring accused infringers has slowed lawsuits nationally. Texas, however, is a different story. Despite efforts to subdue them, suits in the federal district courts in the Eastern District of Texas hit another record high in 2014. Moreover, while patent filings fell by 10% nationwide, they saw a 26% increase in the Eastern District courts and remained steady in other areas of Texas.
These factors contribute to a steady demand for Patent Associates in Texas. Those with Electrical, Computer or Mechanical Engineering degrees will continue to be in high demand as both boutique and large firms alike seek patent prosecution associates. And while the need for IP Litigation Associates is in lower demand, about 20% of the IP related needs in Texas will be for IP litigators.
WHAT THIS MEANS FOR YOU:
Entry Level: If you have a technical background and are considering which area to specialize in, it’s best to make the decision based on your interests. Keep in mind, prosecution attorneys generally bill fewer hours, but of course that’s a double-edged sword, as compensation is generally lower.
Mid-level: IP attorneys with a strong technical degree can expect a good level of lateral opportunities to remain open in 2015.
Senior attorneys: Prosecution opportunities for senior associates are limited due to fee pressures. Lateral candidates at this level might consider a boutique firm that can better accommodate their practice.
Litigation continues on a volatile trajectory showing increased demand in Q2. The numbers are still below recession peak levels, which has accounted for the competitiveness in the lateral market, but recent months have shown some positive signs. The energy market in Texas has increased demand for litigators with regulatory experience and IPO related litigation will precipitate from a record year of IPO activity in 2014 continuing a need for securities litigation experience. In addition, increased cross-border transactions with Latin America have yielded mid to senior level international arbitration openings at top firms.
WHAT THIS MEANS FOR YOU:
Entry-level associates: Firms have been adding fewer associates to these practices compared to prior years, but litigation remains an important revenue driver for most Am Law firms. If you have a passion for litigation, high-stakes securities and other specialized litigation demand is still robust enough to warrant entering the field.
Mid-level associates: As top practices are seemingly all looking to expand their bench in securities and investigations work, giving mid-level associates will have significant leverage in the market in 2015.
Senior associates: Opportunities for senior attorneys have been slim to none, and it’s still a fairly a difficult climate for making partner. Considering your exit options in the next year is not a bad move if you’re reaching the up-or-out date.