As Austin’s Legal Market Explodes, Firms Rush In

This article originally published in Texas Lawyer magazine on April 4.

When John Gilluly started practicing law in Austin in 1998, the city’s legal market lived and breathed real estate, government and practices surrounding those areas.

But everything was changing.

The growth of the city’s technology sector in the dot-com boom of the late 1990s was attracting West Coast firms that wanted to expand in Austin, recalled Gilluly, who then was an associate in the Austin office of the West coast firm of Gray Cary Ware & Freidenrich, a predecessor of DLA Piper.

Then everything changed again.

The dot-com bust of the early 2000s dashed the hopes of some of the firms, which closed their doors, causing partners to scurry to other firms. Gray Cary remained, although it shrank its size, said Gilluly, now managing partner in the Texas offices of DLA Piper in Austin.

Since then, he said Austin’s legal market—and his firm—have grown steadily.

“Other firms’ lawyers have either transitioned to become aligned with the business economy in Austin by working with tech companies or other growth companies,” Gilluly said. “Now, unlike the early ’90s when I started, you have a reasonably robust market of lawyers who have worked in this area for a long time now—over 15 years. Across the board, the firms for the most part have grown.”

By every marker, the economy in Austin is booming—spurring startups and business relocations, creating impressive numbers of jobs and flooding the city with new residents. The growth has also boosted the legal market—and law firms are reacting by opening new offices or expanding existing operations.

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