Recruiters try to keep up as demand for associates hits overdrive

Pedestrians walk through an office building in Tokyo
REUTERS/Yuriko Nakao
  • Global M&A boom has law firms scrambling for associates, recruiters eyeing strong year
  • 'We simply don’t have enough bodies,' says one recruiter

(Reuters) - Susan Kurz Snyder has been a principal at legal recruiting firm Greene-Levin-Snyder for more than two decades. She said she's never been as busy as she is now.

"There’s so much demand that law firms are falling over themselves for talent," New York-based Snyder said.

A global M&A boom, with a record-setting $1.5 trillion in deals announced in the second quarter of 2021 alone, has created a huge demand for law firm associates - and for recruiters to find them.

A glut of associate openings may also be breaking records. As of Friday, legal intelligence firm Leopard Solutions had tracked 9,995 open lawyer and staff positions listed at about 1,000 law firms, more than it ever recorded. That includes 6,905 open associate jobs.

"The deal flow is incredibly fast. Associates are working pretty extreme hours, and firms are making adjustments so they don’t lose their associates in the middle of this," said Kate Reder Sheikh, a managing director in Major, Lindsey and Africa's associate practice group.

To lure new hires and head off departures, Big Law firms have been showering associates with cash over the past year, raising starting salaries and offering special bonuses worth tens of thousands of dollars.

Recruiters said law firms are offering signing bonuses between $25,000 and $250,000. That's prompting some associates who don't want to miss out to change firms faster than they would otherwise, Sheikh said.

Counteroffers from a lawyer's current firm, normally more of a factor for retaining partners, are now being routinely offered to associates as well, recruiters said.

The demand for associates has also gone international. Justine Donahue, a Washington, D.C.-based recruiter at Garrison & Sisson Inc., said she has extended job offers to Australian attorneys in Sydney and Hong Kong to relocate to the U.S.

"We simply don’t have enough bodies. We don’t have enough lawyers interested in moving to fill all the roles firms are needing to fill," Donahue said.

The scramble for associates has helped put recruiting firms on track for a prosperous 2021.

"Many of my colleagues and I have already had a very good year, and it's only July," said Sheikh, who places lawyers at Silicon Valley and San Francisco firms.

"This will likely be among one of our best years ever across the board," Snyder said.

None of the recruiters who spoke to Reuters complained of feeling overwhelmed. That's due to the job's flexibility and autonomous nature, they said.

Snyder said she has "immeasurable flexibility" to manage her work day, allowing her to squeeze in yoga and social engagements when she can.

"Burnout is a real thing, but the nature of recruiting is that you can manage your own desk," Sheikh said.

For the associates and their firms, on the other hand, burnout has become a major concern: 25% of women lawyers, along with 17% of male lawyers, said they're considering leaving the legal profession because of mental health issues, burnout or stress, according to a study released in May.

With that backdrop, and with law firms largely matching one another on raises, recruiters said associates are looking at distinguishing characteristics such as firms' approaches to remote work. Firms emphasizing lots of time in the office may be at a disadvantage, they said.

"To retain the associates, there’s a real competition to see how flexible a place can be," Snyder said.

But the landscape is changing, Donahue said. Earlier in the pandemic, it was easy to place job candidates based in cities and states where a hiring firm didn't even have an office, she said.

"It feels like that window is closing," Donahue said.

Read More:

Dealmakers drown in deals in second-quarter M&A frenzy

Mental health, stress have one-in-four women lawyers mulling career change

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David Thomas reports on the business of law, including law firm strategy, hiring, mergers and litigation. He is based out of Chicago. He can be reached at and on Twitter @DaveThomas5150.