Market Overview

The economic and cultural capital of the Midwest, Chicago has a diversified and vibrant economy that drives the nation’s third-largest legal market. Chicago is home to a large number of Fortune 1000 companies (particularly in the manufacturing, transportation, food, and insurance industries), a growing tech sector, and a large and important financial market with five major exchanges.

The structure of Chicago’s legal market is multi-layered, with home and satellite offices of multinational firms, regional powerhouses, mid-size Chicago-based firms, and highly selective litigation and patent boutiques all finding a home within. The largest Chicago-based firms have historically been (and continue to be) the market leaders, but focused growth by East and West Coast-based firms has begun to heighten the competition for local hegemony. A number of large law firms have opened offices in the city recently, even during the pandemic, including White & Case, Cooley, King & Spalding, Willkie Farr, and Dickinson Wright.

While Chicago’s reputation as a friendly Midwestern city is well-deserved and is reflected in the culture of many local offices, do not mistake it for a “quality-of-life” market. Billable hours requirements and expectations tend to mirror those in other major markets, including New York.

Practice Area Overview

What’s Hot?

  • Corporate: Corporate has been the engine powering Chicago’s legal economy for several years now, and the outlook for growth continues to be healthy. Broad-based corporate/M&A, finance, and private equity practices are the primary drivers of activity in this sector.
  • Intellectual Property: Chicago’s sizable tech industry means a continually high demand for students interested in patent practice, especially those with mechanical and electrical engineering backgrounds.
  • There has been a notable uptick in code-based practices such as restructuring, tax, and ERISA.

What’s Stable?

  • Litigation: There is steady demand for general commercial litigation, but students with more focused interests and experiences should highlight those when practical. White collar crime and government investigations are two particularly bright spots to watch for.
  • Real Estate: A not-insignificant post-recession boom has buoyed this once slow practice.The outlook is good and demand appears to be growing.

What’s Cold?

  • Environmental: Quiet, especially in the regulatory sphere.
  • Trade Regulation: This and other largely DC-based practices have a small footprint in Chicago and much of the work to be found tends to originate elsewhere.
  • Appellate: Appellate work is a tough nut to crack in any legal market, and Chicago is no different. There are only a small number of meaningful appellate practices, and spots within them are highly coveted.
  • Entertainment: Entertainment law, which has never been a particularly robust practice in Chicago, got even smaller when Oprah Winfrey’s Harpo Studios closed in late 2015.
  • Trusts & Estates: Nationwide, large firms have been phasing out their T&E practices for several years now, and those in Chicago have followed suit.

Recruiting Outlook

In spite of its large and broad-based legal market, Chicago’s firms tend to look close to home when hiring. Because of this, ties to the city or the region can provide a significant boost to a student’s application, but think broadly when asserting your connection to the city. You don’t necessarily need to have grown up in a North Shore suburb; sometimes simply knowing that Lou Malnati’s is better than Uno is enough to pass the test. Chicago firms also tend to stress finding the right “fit,” personality-wise, so a relaxed (but professional) and friendly demeanor go a long way.

Chicago Market Resources

Check out the links below for more information regarding the Chicago legal market, networking opportunities, and job listings.

Georgetown Law Resources

External Resources

Local Legal Associations

General Membership

Affinity Bar Associations

Specialty Bar Associations