- Phoenix is a large city with a relatively smaller legal market–but there is a substantial Biglaw presence.
- Phoenix tends to be insulated, and outsiders looking to break in will benefit from having personal ties.
- Phoenix is one of the fastest growing legal markets in one of the largest U.S. metropolitan areas.
Phoenix is the fifth largest city in the U.S. but has a smaller and more insulated legal market than you might expect. Biglaw recruitment and job placement is not going to be the same in Phoenix as it might be in other large metros and understanding the market well can make or break your chances at finding a career fit.
The American Bar Association reports just over 12,000 attorneys in Maricopa County where Phoenix is located. That’s less attorneys than in the counties where Atlanta, Seattle, and San Diego belong, all cities less populated than Phoenix! However, because Phoenix is one of the fastest-growing cities in the nation, some think that the legal market is simply lagging behind the population growth. Phoenix draws heavily from Arizona’s two top-50 law schools, Arizona State University O’Connor College of Law and University of Arizona Rogers College of Law. Uncharacteristic for a large metro, Phoenix’s legal market has a degree of insularity. Those who want to work in Phoenix will have to find their own way to break into the market, either by having ties or by bringing competitive value to a firm. However, an attorney count of 12,000 is not a small legal market at all, just relatively small for the population it serves. Phoenix is definitely not completely barren of Biglaw opportunities.
Living in Phoenix definitely has a flavor. You’ll get most of the benefits that come with living in a large city, but the desert weather might be a dealbreaker for some. The city is well-organized as a giant grid, has affordable housing, an excellent food scene, and many outdoor activities. However, Phoenix comes with downsides that are common to large metros: the crime rate, homelessness, and a lacking education system. Many people split the difference by primarily working and living in Phoenix but frequently vacationing elsewhere (especially when the summer heat gets unbearable!).
Many large firms maintain a serious presence in Phoenix. Even multiple multinational firms have their footprint. The size of the city generates all kinds of legal matters, so you don’t have to be a specialist to break into the market. If you decide that you want to practice at a large firm in Phoenix, the biggest challenge will be getting your foot in the door. That’s where a legal recruiter can make a meaningful difference.
Top law firms in Phoenix
Phoenix is considered a top-five growing legal market, so expect firms to either plant new offices or grow their existing Phoenix offices. In the meanwhile, there are already some major league law firms in Biglaw that are well-established in Phoenix.
Greenberg Traurig has a large office of almost 50 attorneys that can handle most legal matters. The Biglaw feel is undeniable, and Greenberg Traurig calls themselves the “Go To” law firm for Phoenix businesses.
DLA Piper’s Phoenix office is 25 attorneys large. Established in 2007, the office serves local and regional businesses with a variety of practices while remaining integrated with the firm’s larger global transactions.
Ballard Spahr’s office of 37 is a Southwest powerhouse. Initially opened by a group of corporate attorneys, the office now handles all sorts of matters including litigation, finance, intellectual property, and real estate.
Dentons maintains a smaller office of under 20, but specializes in niche practices like leisure & hospitality, white-collar crime, and high net worth management.
Perkins Coie keeps one of its largest offices in Phoenix. Nearly 80 Perkins Coie attorneys handle a full range of practice areas for local businesses while functioning as part of the larger international firm.
As you can see, Phoenix is not fasting for large firms despite the size of its market. Just to quickly name a few more notable firms in Phoenix:
- Squire Patton Boggs
- Snell & Wilmer
- Quarles & Brady
- Dickinson Wright
When looking for the right role, it can be hard to take this all on yourself. Partnering with a legal staffing agency or recruiting firm can make this a faster and better experience overall for you. These recruiters are familiar with positions for paralegals, in-house roles, and full-time associate attorney openings. If you’re looking for the next steps in your legal career, finding a staffing agency familiar with attorney recruitment may be a good step for you. Many legal professionals could benefit from this market knowledge. A legal recruitment firm will be well tapped in to the hiring needs or local companies and will help you understand the depth of your legal community as well as opportunities available. In the legal industry, working with someone who is familiar with all legal departments, open roles, and mergers could give you a leg up on the competition.
How to conduct a legal job search in Phoenix
Phoenix will have enough Biglaw opportunities to match the individual goals of a job seeker. Legal recruiters will understand that attorneys usually try to lateral in one of three ways: (1) same firm, different location, (2) same location, different firm, or (3) different firm and different location. Start with your years of experience and consider what roles are open, as well as talking to other people about making referrals for you, if you can. Whether you’re looking for a non-profit, in-house, associate, or other role, placement firms can speed up the process once you’ve explored these other options.
Same firm, different location. If you work at a firm that already has a Phoenix office, you may be interested in lateraling without leaving your firm. You would want to make sure that your transition does not disrupt any work or relationships from your former office. Before you speak to HR or recruiters, consider how you will strategize your transition. Does your firm’s Phoenix office have a group for the practice you are in? Does the firm permit inter-office staffing for you to start working with the Phoenix attorneys? Even if a smooth transition isn’t there, it doesn’t mean you can’t lateral. Once you’ve assessed your situation, discuss with partners from both offices and take it to HR when your lateral move has been thoroughly planned and communicated.
Different firm, same location. Your job search here may be easy, but the amount of information to juggle can be a lot. Your own network, understanding of local firms, and personal reputation will all come into play. You might talk to a recruiter and end up comparing what they tell you with what you already know or what your friends at other firms tell you. You can take a deeper dive and probably hear through the grapevine about what an office’s culture is like or even what it is like to work for a particular partner. Legal recruiters are helpful for taking on some of the legwork of job searching, especially when you’re most capable of doing it yourself if you wanted to.
Different firm, different location. This kind of lateral move is where legal recruiters are most impactful. Market insight, open positions, and firm hiring trends are all information that legal recruiters stay on top of. A recruiter’s knowledge can make or break whether an outsider finds a good career fit in Phoenix.
Examples of lawyers who work with legal recruiters in Phoenix
Associate moving to Phoenix from a different legal market
Frank attended a law school outside of Phoenix and found his first firm job in another state. However, because Frank wants to return to Arizona where his family is, he is now looking for job opportunities in Phoenix. Frank sends his lawyer resume to a legal recruiter to find out how he can break into the market using his ties and prior experience.
Associate who wants to change practice areas
Amanda currently works for a Biglaw firm in Phoenix doing commercial litigation. However, her firm does not have an intellectual property litigation group, which she has always had an interest in. Amanda wants to use her experience and lateral to a firm that does intellectual property before she gets pigeonholed into commercial litigation. Amanda works with a recruiter to find opportunities at firms that have openings in their intellectual property groups (e.g., Perkins Coie or Ballard Spahr).
Mid-level associate that wants to lateral up to a higher ranked firm
Ron works at a decently sized firm in Phoenix but wants to lateral to a more prestigious firm that works on larger, more national/global matters. In order to get the inside scoop on what these firms are looking for in a candidate and where the openings are, Ron reaches out to a legal recruiter to strategize his lateral to some of the bigger names in Phoenix.
If you need more information on the best legal recruiters in Phoenix, send me a message using the site’s chat button stating briefly that you’re on the lookout for a firm placement in Phoenix. I’ll keep all your information confidential and get back to you quickly with some recommendations.
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Joshua Holt is a lawyer with 10 years of experience in Biglaw working at the country’s largest law firms, culminating in his work at a Vault 30 law firm in the private equity mergers & acquisition group. He has extensive experience counseling associates in lateraling to a firm with a better fit, helping associates make partner and working with law students navigating on-campus and call-back interviews.