Fast-growing smaller cities helped fuel new hiring at Baker Donelson, which brought on about 100 lawyers last year for its two dozen offices.
The firm, founded in Memphis, Tennessee, added associates and shareholders at a rapid clip after slower hiring as the pandemic unfolded in 2020.
“The cities in our footprint are the cities that are among the fastest growing, and we are taking advantage of that to hire whenever we can,” said Mark A.B. Carlson, who as the firm’s chief growth officer focuses on lateral attorney recruiting, acquisition and integration.
In the “incredibly competitive market for talent, we must be intentional and proactive in our lateral recruitment,” Carlson said in an interview.
Competition for lawyers has heated up as legal matters soared during the pandemic, and remote connections allowed lawyers to leave their firms, move to distant cities, and continue to turn out work.
The 200 largest firms hired just under 25,000 associates and partners last year compared to little more than 18,000 in 2020, data from Decipher Competitive Intelligence, which tracks law firm lateral hires and does due diligence for firms on lateral hires, showed.
Baker Donelson in 2021 hired about 100 lawyers—a mix of 25 new associates and the rest lateral associates and lateral shareholders, who are the equivalent of partners. Carlson said that number was up significantly from the previous year when firms generally held back on hiring until the pandemic’s economic consequences became clear.
With about 650 lawyers, the firm has continued to hire at about the same pace as before the pandemic, with a focus on its national health care and financial services practices, said Meagan Nebel. She was promoted this week to the firm’s new role of director of lateral recruiting and integration.
The firm has 22 offices, including locations in Fort Lauderdale, Orlando, and Tallahassee, Florida, and Chattanooga and Nashville, Tennessee.
The competition for legal talent has been mainly bigger firms bringing on attorneys remotely anywhere they can find them, Carlson said
“National law firms—New York, D.C., New York and Chicago—are looking at the talent pools in places like Atlanta, for example, and looking to hire them for their corporate team in New York,” he said.
The firm, whose full name is Baker Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz, generated $380.4 million in gross revenues last year, up 2% over 2020. It had been ranked No. 100 by the American Lawyer in 2021 but was not on that list in this year.