Areas that are bulking up include mid-market transactional, insolvency, tax, employment (especially WHS), intellectual property (IP), and more niche areas like media, competition and regulatory (due to the new Competition Act).
Dispute resolution, or more so mediation, as clients are looking to settle matters rather than litigating, is the obvious area that is bulking up; and you will see a particular top-tier firm and a number of medium-to-smaller firms that are in good stead due to these strong litigation practice areas: insolvency, IP, workplace, tax, media, competition, and environmental & planning (across energy & projects).
Work health and safety has undergone significant change in NSW, moving from the Industrial Courts to the District Courts, with the law now largely untested; this is definitely an area to watch.
Smaller law firms with strong insolvency and tax capability are experiencing strong workflow and are on the lookout for talent.
The large corporate and equity capital markets practice areas are really suffering. Highly-leveraged firms in these areas are reducing the number of lawyers and partners as they are finding it difficult to maintain such large teams, keep up with budget and maintain general overheads.
All the legal services demand is in low-leveraged, high-quality medium-sized firms and boutique firms. This is due to high-quality expertise provided at more attractive rates, with much smaller teams. In-house legal counsel have become much more sophisticated and they want more partner and experienced-lawyer attention.
Hence, not only is the rate more attractive, the hours and amount of lawyers charged out are less. A number of these firms find themselves in a position of real control, financial strength and stability in this environment.