There are over 180,000 active attorneys in California; 45% are in LA area; approximately 30% in the Bay area. A recent study claims California has the second-highest oversupply of lawyers after New York.
The major Southern California law firm markets break down into Los Angeles, Orange County and San Diego. In Northern California, there are two distinct markets: San Francisco and Silicon Valley. The major cities in Silicon Valley are Menlo Park in the north, and Mountain View, Palo Alto, and San Jose in the South. San Francisco firms tend to have the more traditional practices, while Silicon Valley is centered around technology.
In Los Angeles there are the three distinct centers for law firms – Downtown, Century City and Santa Monica, which has recently been dubbed Silicon Beach because of the growth of the tech industry there. Tech and media companies, accelerators and incubators, investors and law firms, have set up offices along the three mile stretch from Santa Monica to Venice and Playa Vista. Google, Facebook, YouTube, and Microsoft have set up campuses, as have Snapchat and incubators like Amplify LA, and the lawyers are following. New in LA is the burgeoning tech scene downtown. By one venture capital’s firm count, there are now 78 tech-oriented companies in downtown LA. The tech companies focus on entertainment, gaming, cloud-based e-commerce, online ad technology, and social networking. In fact, Los Angeles is ranked third, behind Silicon Valley and Tel Aviv, as a start-up ecosystem. Among the 50 biggest law firms in California, 45 have offices in LA.
Orange County is only 50 miles from Los Angeles, though it could take two hours in traffic. In many respects it is an extension of LA, although there are some major indigenous firms. In Orange County, the major firms are in Newport Beach, Costa Mesa and Irvine—all near the coast. In the AmLaw mid-level associate survey, Orange County had the most satisfied mid-level associates in general.
San Diego was AmLaw mid-level associate survey’s second highest scoring market. Another survey cited San Diego for its growing number of female and non-white attorneys. Lawyer opportunities in San Diego are increasing but still are less than one would expect from a city the size of 1.3 million people. Of the National Law Journal Top 350 firms, only 1% of those lawyers are located in San Diego because, although San Diego is a good place for start-ups, there are only a handful of large, homegrown companies that can support big firm rates. Some law firms have two offices in the greater San Diego area—in downtown and in North County where many of the tech companies are headquartered. However, last year, two national firms closed their San Diego branch offices. It’s interesting to note that over half of the largest firms in Orange County and San Diego are branch offices of firms headquartered elsewhere.
Only two of the largest San Francisco offices have over 200 attorneys. With the exception of Farella Braun, all of the top ten law firms have offices in Southern California. It’s interesting to note that a number of firms have closed their San Francisco offices and consolidated in their Silicon Valley offices.
Wilson Sonsini’s Silicon Valley office is the biggest single office in the state and is a national leader in venture finance. Cooley is a top firm for advising on IPOs. Of the firms on this list, Fenwick is the only one that does not have an office in Southern California. Silicon Valley’s economy is booming, and the area continues to be a very popular site for firms to open new branch offices because of the hot tech/IP market.