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Despite Slowed White-Collar Demand, National Firms Add High-Profile Partners

The early September rash of white-collar hirings around the country is evidence that firms continue to see a need for experienced lawyers to handle government investigations and defense for corporate clients, even if the practice area has slowed somewhat overall.

Baker & Hostetler, which beefed up its white-collar strength in Texas this month by hiring a prominent partner in Dallas, is far from the only national firm snatching up partners who specialize in white-collar defense and investigations.

But legal recruiters are split on the strength of the market for white-collar lawyers. Larry Watanabe, founder of Watanabe Nason in Solana Beach, California, said the demand is up across the board, especially in California. But other recruiters caution that the market for white-collar lawyers has not been extraordinarily strong lately, despite the numerous big-firm announcements since Labor Day.

“I don’t think the market for folks coming out of government—unless they have very established reputations—is great right now, but the market is always great for people who have established reputations for generating business,” said Mark Jungers, a partner and co-founder of search firm Lippman Jungers.

That jibes with a July report in the New York Law Journal, which suggested that a slowdown in criminal prosecutions has softened the white-collar lateral hiring market in New York, slowing the revolving door between prosecutors’ offices and law firms.

Jungers, who splits his time between Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and Los Angeles, but also oversees his firm’s operations in New York, said the New York lateral hiring market for white-collar lawyers may be down, but that will change.

“If you are a crackerjack person at the Southern District of New York, there’s always going to be work for you at some big, fancy law firm if you want to do that,” he said.

Sharon Rowe