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by Kate Reder Sheikh | April 15, 2024


In a lot of ways, the Bay Area is what it seems to be: the OG capital of tech work. But it has proven to be more than that, especially as the volume of tech-related work has dipped in recent years due to macroeconomic forces. The Bay Area has a huge headcount of well-credentialed lawyers.* It used to be that New York was the true, singular epicenter of sophisticated practice. Not anymore. Here’s what’s happening in this increasingly competitive market.

Let’s start with what is almost never hot in the Bay Area. These are practices where many firms won’t have a single partner on the ground here doing this work:

  • Bankruptcy Litigation and Restructuring. You’ll find much more of this work in LA than in the Bay Area, year over year.
  • International Arbitration. This practice is still almost nonexistent in the Bay Area (and on the West Coast in general).
  • Political Work. This work dwells mostly in DC and New York. There are a few firms that do it, but it’s very niche.
  • Entertainment. Head south to LA for this practice; it is very poorly represented in the Bay Area. Our celebrities are in tech!

There are a few Bay Area practices that are truly evergreen:

  • Labor and Employment. The Bay Area is a true hotbed for this work, and some of the most well-regarded employment litigators sit in the Bay Area offices of their firms. There are likely few better training grounds for employment work than here. Traditional labor law is generally practiced at the firms you’d think of first—those who are the true workhorses in the space. These are generally firms that do mostly or only labor and employment work.
  • Privacy (Litigation and Cybersecurity/Advisory). It tracks that these practices would be major in the home of Meta, Apple, Google, etc. Even in a lower market, there are almost always jobs in these spaces. Privacy litigation may be slightly more evergreen than the breach-response/privacy-policy side of this work.
  • White Collar. This is a practice that wasn’t nearly as well represented in the Bay Area in decades past, but it has landed here with a vengeance (in part due to newly established Bay Area offices of New York mainstays). There is both broad white collar work and niche securities work here.
  • Antitrust. Like white collar, antitrust roared into the Bay Area scene over the last 10 years as more and more antitrust issues have arisen involving indigenous Bay Area companies. The Bay Area is now a true hub for this work and appears to be going steady even in the slower economy.
  • Complex Commercial Litigation. We can’t get enough high-quality talent in this space, and a lot of it comes via laterals from New York and DC, especially.
  • Technology/IP Transactions. Some of the most interesting, bespoke commercial contracting in this space is happening here, and it always has been.
  • Patent Litigation. The Bay Area isn’t just home to hard tech. It is also a major hub (alongside Boston) for biotech and pharma. So, patent litigators can pick a lane between life sciences and hard sciences, and there is a never-ending fire hose of work.
  • Compensation and Benefits. This practice is—and has been—booming in the Bay Area. The work is often cross-border and involves carefully crafted, bespoke drafting. This practice dwells almost exclusively in BigLaw. The demand for associates in this space is massive—much, much higher than the number of associates doing this work.
  • Clean Tech/Project Finance. There is a lot of green work to be doing here. Most firms doing project finance for renewables—and related work—have the majority of their teams in the Bay Area (where most of their clients are).

These very prominent practices are almost always robust in the Bay Area but are much more susceptible to a slowdown when interest rates are high and/or we’re in a recession:

  • Emerging Companies/Venture Capital. Most teams do both investor- and company-side work, with some firms drilling further down into the latter given the surplus of founders with a dream in Silicon Valley. This is work that slows down meaningfully with high interest rates but is otherwise one of the staples of our legal economy.
  • Private Equity. It’s not just in New York, Boston, and Chicago; the Bay Area PE scene is huge and rowdy; there is a lot of movement between firms in this space. It’s not just the big dogs in the space who have major offices out here; it’s also a lot of East Coast blue bloods who put down roots here a long time ago, and Bay Area-based firms are in this game as well. This practice is tried and true out here.
  • M&A/General Corporate. In normal times, this practice is either coasting or (more often) booming. The indigenous Bay Area firms do a lot of both buy- and sell-side work. The East Coast brands here do much more buy-side work.
  • Public Company. This practice exists across the spectrum of firms but is heavily impacted by the macroeconomic winds.

Find more of Kate's insights about the Bay Area and legal practice on LinkedIn.

*Per The Leopard List, of the 3,558 associates in the Bay Area between class years 2016 and 2023, a total of 2,738 are at AmLaw 200 firms, with 2,566 at AmLaw 100 firms. Among these associates, 1,367 attended T14 schools, and 505 of them went to the top five law schools in the U.S. (Let that one sink in—more than quarter!) Of the 792 litigators from these class years in the Bay Area, 227 clerked either in a U.S. Court of Appeals, a U.S. District Court, SCOTUS, or a state Supreme Court.


All opinions expressed are those of the author and based on information the author considers reliable.