Large law firms still see allure of Utah's 'Silicon Slopes'

Mountains rise up behind the Salt Lake City skyline and the Utah State Capitol building
Mountains rise up behind the Salt Lake City skyline and the Utah State Capitol building, November 21, 2012. REUTERS/George Frey
  • Large firms have continued recruiting in Salt Lake City this year
  • Foley & Lardner, Greenberg Traurig, Dorsey & Whitney made recent hires

(Reuters) - Salt Lake City has not lost its luster for large, out-of-town law firms in 2022, with several publicizing new recruits there in the past week alone.

Foley & Lardner on Tuesday said it hired partner R. Whitney (Whit) Johnson. Greenberg Traurig brought on Marc Rasich on Monday and Tiffany Shimada last week, a firm spokesperson said.

Dorsey & Whitney hired a four-partner IP team to its Salt Lake City outpost on Thursday, which the firm said has seen 65% headcount growth since 2015.

Firm leaders and legal recruiters have pointed to a burgeoning technology sector in Salt Lake City, recently dubbed the "Silicon Slopes," as well as area universities and lifestyle factors as major draws.

In the past eight months, Mayer Brown, Kirkland & Ellis, Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati and Foley have opened Salt Lake City offices.

Other law firms, including Greenberg Traurig, have also set up shop there in recent years.

Utah's tech sector has been a main driver that several large firms have cited for their decision to open there.

Kimball Dean Parker, CEO of Wilson Sonsini's Salt Lake City-based tech subsidiary SixFifty, said the city has seen an influx of "startup companies that are starting to become big enough to be able to afford big-time legal services."

Despite the region's growing appeal, it's still an emerging market for out-of-town firms, with a pool of legal talent that's only so large. Newcomer firms have grown their ranks through a combination of local attorney hires and relocating lawyers from other offices.

"I think there's a limited number of firms that can actually move in and achieve critical mass there," said Robert Brigham of legal recruiting firm Major, Lindsey & Africa, "And I think we're kind of approaching that number."

For the time being, some large firms already in Salt Lake City remain in growth mode.

Mayer Brown has expanded from three to 16 lawyers since its January launch, according to a firm spokesperson. Foley has grown to 24 after opening in October with four, and Wilson Sonsini has 13 lawyers associated with its office after opening in November, spokespeople said.

The city's legal market is evolving along with Utah's growing population, which jumped 18.4% from 2010 to 2020, making it the fastest-growing state in the country, according to U.S. Census Bureau data.

Kirkland opened there in September with about five lawyers, and its office has grown to between 115 and 120 lawyers, according to a firm spokesperson.

Kirkland partner Travis Nelson cited another factor that firms have said works in Salt Lake City's favor: its universities.

Nelson said in a recent interview the firm plans to recruit from law schools at Brigham Young University and the University of Utah. The firm also previously had lawyers working in its other offices with ties to those schools, he said, who have wanted to move back to Utah.

David Wright, managing partner of Foley's Salt Lake City office, said in a recent interview out-of-town firms like his are attracting talent that might have previously left the state.

"Our experience has been some of the younger attorneys that have felt like they needed to go outside of Utah to get the legal experience that they were looking for, are now finding those opportunities in Utah," he said.

Read more:

Mayer Brown joins parade of law firms opening in Salt Lake City

Dorsey & Whitney hires more lawyers in busy Salt Lake City

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Sara Merken reports on privacy and data security, as well as the business of law, including legal innovation and key players in the legal services industry. Reach her at