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Practice Areas And Geography: Where Are The Jobs?

Oct. 21, 2013

The title of this post might seem somewhat odd, given that it sounds like the overarching umbrella all of these posts should fall under. However my intent here is to talk specifically about the geography and practice areas where we're seeing the most potential for legal market growth today and in the coming months and years.

First, it must be (re)stated that the overall legal job market is still struggling. Much like the national economy, there appears to be a modest recovery going on, but it is nowhere near the type of growth we need to get employment numbers back to pre-2008 recession levels.

That said, we are seeing growth in certain sub-sectors of the legal market that are worth mentioning. Energy (including but not limited to oil/gas) continues to be a strong sector, and if you're paying attention to the overall economy, you know that some projections show the United States could become "energy independent" within the next five years. What we're seeing with oil production in North Dakota, West Texas and other locations, coupled with the rise of natural gas and the pursuit of alternative energy provides a massive market for legal work. Much of this is concentrated in West Texas and Houston, but it can be found all over Texas.

I'm going to lump health care and compliance into one large growth area. New and amended regulations in a number of fields (including obviously health care, but also insurance generally, banking, the environment, etc.) has created a demand for expert lawyers to help clients stay or get into compliance with federal, state and local laws.

Intellectual property is a good news / bad news proposition. The good news is there is a ton of IP legal work in Texas, particularly in Dallas and the Eastern District (Dallas + Tyler, Longview, etc.). The bad news is most firms require their IP attorneys to have a computer science or electrical engineering background, which very few have. A positive exception is certain IP litigation practices, where smaller firms will serve as local counsel for big firms / companies; in those practices the undergraduate background is usually not necessary.

The last area I'll mention is high volume personal injury work. Tort reform in Texas took a big bite out of the top-end plaintiff's work, but there is plenty of low-end/high volume work to be had. If making a medium to high salary in the first year or two is critical for you then this probably won't be an option. If, however, you can get by for a while on a small salary, the opportunity is there to do very well and help a lot of people at the same time.

Going through a few of these practice areas I've referenced some geography, but let's take a closer look at where (on the map) the jobs are. The Texas market is faring better overall than the national market, with recovery happening in all the major cities. Houston appears to be growing more robustly than anywhere else, particularly due to the high concentration of energy work I mentioned earlier. Dallas had a bit of a slow start in the recovery due to their primary areas, corporate and banking, being slow to get going again. Austin has seen job growth but at the same time a huge demand for people wanting to live there, making the jobs just as difficult, if not more, to get. West Texas, and in particular Midland/Odessa, is in the middle of an oil boom which has created a large number of jobs in all sectors including legal. If you're from that area, have ties to it or just really want to work in oil/gas, you should absolutely be pursuing West Texas as an option.

These trends will change over time and I'll continue to provide updates as they do. In the meantime if there is a city or practice area you're curious about that I didn't mention here, let me know and I'll provide my thoughts. Have a great week!

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