Legal market remains hot for three-to-five-year associates, experts say

By Heather Cobun
BridgeTower Media Newswires

Associates with three to five years of experience continue to be in high demand and, despite usually falling into the often-maligned millennial generation, they aren’t behaving differently than their predecessors.

The market is looking for attorneys with this experience level right now, according to Randi Lewis, managing director of the law firm practice group at Major, Lindsey and Africa, and that demand is not new. Attorneys with at least a couple of years with a firm have earned enough experience to be comfortable and knowledgeable but still have room to grow and be trained at a new job.

“Typically, people come into a practice area but it just takes a couple of years for you to do things more than once, more than twice, more than three times, to be comfortable knowing what you’re doing,” she said.
Lewis said attorneys in that three-to-five-year range who are thinking about moving need to do so now.

“People kind of learn the hard way because they’re eight years out and they start looking and find out they’re not want the market wants,” she said.

Ezra S. Gollogly, a principal at Kramon & Graham PA in Baltimore who serves as the point of contact for lateral recruiting, said three to five years is an “attractive time frame” for law firms “because people have some experience so you’re not starting from scratch but there’s still lots that they can learn and lots of room for training.”

Alyssa R. Fieo, assistant dean of career development at University of Baltimore School of Law, agreed about the market for that experience level.

“I think from our perspective, three to five years of experience is probably the peak marketability point for large and midsize firms,” she said.

Fieo said she views the law school’s role as teaching students to critically evaluate job opportunities both for their first job out of school and when making career decisions later.

“One of the things that I’m seeing is we’re guiding students on how to make those difficult decisions,” she said.

Dana Morris, assistant dean of career development at University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law, said it takes time to learn about the work and what you do and don’t like when starting out.

“Hopefully, the first choice they make is the choice that’s going to mesh with their career aspirations but sometimes you’ll find that your aspirations change,” Morris said. “I think that happens, though, frankly, with every single job. There’s always things that you do that may not be high on your list that you enjoy.”


Millennials, defined by the Pew Research Center as individuals born between 1981 and 1996, are between 22 and 37 this year. Pew found millennials made up the largest share of the workforce in 2015. Many do not identify with the term and are more likely to ascribe negative attributes to their own generation.

But Lewis was hesitant to paint millennial attorneys with a broad brush. She stressed there is no one-size-fits-all legal career.

“I really think it depends what people’s goals are rather than whether they’re millennials or not,” she said.

For the most part, Lewis said, if attorneys like their firm’s culture and believe they have good opportunities, they want to stay.

“I do think that millennials, just like any other generation of attorneys, do have loyalty to their firms if their firms are treating them right and they have a good culture,” Lewis said.

Morris said she believes law students and recent graduates in the millennial generation look at the notion of “paying dues” differently than previous generations, though they are just as hardworking. They question if they have to go through the same experiences as their predecessors and ask if there are other ways to get the necessary experience.

Morris also said students ask about firm culture during the on-campus interview process.

“They’ve really put a lot of stock into the community in which they find themselves,” she said. “They’re seeking community and they’re seeking work and work with employers that want to be a part of that fabric.”

Fieo said she’s been working with young attorneys for more than 25 years and does think they are not afraid to make lateral moves and explore other opportunities.

“I think that younger attorneys are not afraid to move, where in prior years the idea was to land that job, work hard in that job, develop your skills,” she said.

Gollogly said development may be a reason associates look to change firms if they don’t feel they are meeting the “benchmarks in their head” for their career.

“One thing we routinely see is people just wanting to get more substantial experience,” he said. “They may be at another firm where they’re not developing in the ways they were expecting out of law school.”

Whether a recent graduate or a recent lateral hire, Gollogly said his firm hopes attorneys remain there long-term.

“We want people to stay because that’s just the best way to build and grow your talent,” he said. “The way that we do that is hopefully creating a work environment that people are excited about and providing opportunities.”