- Chicago is an important economic hub, not only for the Midwest region, but the entire U.S.
- The Chicago area holds one of the largest populations of lawyers in the United States.
- The median pay for Chicago-based lawyers is roughly $26,000 higher than the national median.
Chicago is home to some of the most nationally-recognized companies in the United States. These companies are headquartered or have major offices in the area, but their reach extends far beyond the Windy City.
Boeing International, for example, has an important footprint in the city. This massive airplane company is headquartered in the Boeing Building, located near downtown Chicago. Although they have cut back on Chicago-based staff, they still have numerous employees in the area. Other companies with Chicago headquarters include Motorola, McDonald’s, Kraft-Heinz, and Exelon, a leading energy provider.
While private businesses of all sizes are an important driver for the city, the largest employers in Chicago are government organizations. According to MetroMBA, the largest single employer in the Chicago area is the United States government. Specifically, the Chicago Federal Executive Board, which has almost 50,000 employees. Chicago Public Schools is second-largest, with almost 40,000. The City of Chicago (30,000) and Cook County (21,000) are in the top four.
The only non-government group in the top five is Advocate Health Care, which employs over 18,000 people in the Chicago area.
Being the third-largest city in the county, Chicago has an economy that envelopes numerous industries. Government, as we have noted, is a major contributor, but the Chicago landscape also includes manufacturing; World Business Chicago says there are nearly 12,000 manufacturing firms in the area. Transportation, information technology, and health services are all important to Chicago residents and the local economy.
Chicago: A thriving city for legal professionals
Chicago is a welcoming city for workers, professionals, and laborers of all types. Medical, engineering, technology, business; all have their place in the Chicagoland market. With such a diverse economy, one that includes government, business, healthcare, transportation, as well as numerous individuals and families, there is clearly a need for excellent lawyers.
Chicago is one of the top areas for lawyers. The Bureau of Labor Statistics says that in the Chicago-Naperville area, there are roughly 6.2 lawyers for every 1,000 workers, which places it fairly high in the employment-per-thousand-jobs ranking. (For perspective, the San Francisco area is #10, with 7.39 lawyers for every 1,000 jobs.)
According to the American Bar Association, there are over 46,000 attorneys in Cook County, making it one of the largest counties for practicing law.
Typical salary for Chicago lawyers
Although there is already a large population of Chicago-based attorneys, demand remains high. This is a competitive legal market; talented, dedicated, hard-working attorneys can expect some of the best earnings in the country.
The median salaries for lawyers are:
As you can see from the above numbers, the median salary for an Illinois attorney is higher than national earnings, and a Chicago-area attorney can expect a salary that is almost $26,000 higher than the national median.
Important law schools in the Chicago area and Illinois
Chicago is an important hub for the legal profession, not just in the Midwest but across the entire country. While lawyers come to the area from all across the country, many are trained at nationally-recognized law schools found in Chicago and Illinois.
University of Chicago
One of the most prestigious law schools in the country, the University of Chicago’s legal program outranks famous institutions at Harvard, Columbia, NYU, and Cal-Berkley. In fact, this school is ranked higher than all Ivy League law schools except one.
Northwestern’s Pritzker School of Law, located in the northern suburb of Evanston, is one of the most prestigious and historic law schools in the country. This important institution trains students in dispute resolution, tax law, contracts, and more.
University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign
As Illinois’ largest college, with roughly 53,000 students in the spring of 2021, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign contributes a large number of lawyers to Chicago, as well as the state and the nation.
The top law firms in Chicagoland
- Kirkland & Ellis LLP: With 668 local attorneys and 342 local partners (as of June 2020), Kirkland & Ellis is considered the largest law firm in the city. With a powerful reputation across the country, this firm has opportunities in virtually all forms of legal practice.
- Sidley Austin LLP: Holding 447 local attorneys, including 161 local partners, Sidley Austin LLP has a reputation for high-quality work, a diverse culture, and strong bonuses for high-achieving lawyers.
- Mayer Brown LLP: One of the largest firms on the globe, Mayer Brown has professionals in a variety of practices but is especially known for appellate litigation. The firm has a strong footprint in Chicago with 269 local attorneys, which includes 123 local partners.
Conducting a legal job search in Chicago
Should you use a legal recruiter in Chicago? To find the answer, you need to know what a recruiter is, as well as the benefits and drawbacks of using their services. Starting a legal search for in-house role, general counsel, or corporate counsel can easily feel overwhelming. You might not even know which legal departments are hiring. Recruiters familiar with the landscape help legal talent like you find open roles in Chicago, IL based on your preferences. A recruiter or headhunter will be experienced with finding which Chicago offices are seeking a new lawyer and can help match your years of experience with open positions.
What is a legal recruiter?
A legal recruiter is, essentially, a recruiting agent for law firms. While they are not employees of firms (acting instead like independent contractors), they are paid by law firms to bring in educated, trained, and experienced lawyers who can immediately contribute to the firm.
Hiring takes time, time that law firms rarely have. Therefore, they outsource the acquisition of talent to people who specialize in finding lawyers, interviewing candidates, and placing professionals in the right position. Most headhunters use a similar recruitment process, but jobseekers should carefully review all testimonials for the recruitment firm before getting started. Whether you want an in-house counsel job or a position in a boutique law firm, you need to know more about your recruiter.
The search process for finding the perfect full-time legal counsel job. Since many law firms have hiring needs for talented professionals, they turn to recruiters to help place the right people in the right roles. Whether you’re advancing your legal career looking for a litigation associate role, in-house counsel, or some other position, a recruiter has the inside track on what you might need.
Duties of a legal recruiter include:
- Communicating with law firms to understand their staffing needs
- Finding trained and licensed lawyers who can practice law in the region
- Reviewing lawyer resumes
- Scheduling interviews with potential job candidates
- Interviewing candidates to ensure proper placement of lawyers
- Guiding improvements for resumes and cover letters
A reliable, effective recruiter can be an inestimable resource for law firms. For many firms, money is not the issue; it’s time. A legal recruiter, for a fee, allows law firms to spend their time on cases, not on sourcing their legal staff.
But what are the advantages and downsides to you, the legal professional?
Advantages of using a legal recruiter
Working with a legal recruiter could mean faster, better job placement while requiring no out-of-pocket expenses.
No Cost to the Lawyer Being Hired
Perhaps most important, there is no financial risk to lawyers who use legal recruiters. The Chicago recruiter will be paid by the law firm that hires you; whether you land in a position or not, you will not have to pay the recruiter.
Faster Job Placement
Finding a new position takes time, but a recruiter already knows which law firms are looking for lawyers and what practices they need to fill. This can result in faster job placement.
Provide Market Insight
A top-quality legal recruiter will understand the Chicago market and provide accurate insight into law firms. They may know which firms have a good reputation, the specialties of each organization, and the leadership personality among partners. This information can be helpful when you are looking for a law position in the Windy City.
Disadvantages of using a legal recruiter
While a legal recruiter generally brings more benefits, there can be some downsides to their services…
Possibly Lower Pay
Law firms have to pay the recruiter when you are hired. Therefore, they may be less willing to negotiate salaries and benefits. For at least the first few years, your negotiating power may be limited.
Job Search is Tied to the Recruiter
If the recruiter has a strong reputation, you will benefit. But if they have a poor reputation, and few law firms are willing to work with them, your job search may be limited. If you find a position, the recruiter’s reputation could stick as you enter the firm.
When to use a Chicago legal recruiter: Two examples
Here are two hypothetical examples of experienced lawyers who decide to use a legal recruiter in Chicago:
Moving to Chicago from a Different Market
Wanda is a mid-level associate in her fifth year of legal service. She currently works in Rock Island, Illinois, a town that is part of the mid-sized “Quad-Cities” region. She is enjoying a successful career, but would like to try her skills in the larger Chicago market. She has decided to move to Chicago while she is still relatively young, so she hires a legal recruiter to help her find a firm in the area.
Wants to Change the Practice Area
Richard is a senior associate who has been practicing tax law since being first hired 8 years ago. He wants to move into corporate mergers, an area he finds interesting and exciting, but realizes he won’t get the opportunity at his current firm. Because he is unfamiliar with the market, he hires a Chicago legal recruiter to help him find employment in this practice.
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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.