Comparing the Three Biggest Legal Markets in Texas
Texas is a titanic presence in both the U.S. generally and the legal industry specifically, boasting the second largest population in the country and the headquarters of nearly 100 of the Fortune 500 companies. The Texan cities of Houston, Dallas, and Austin are all significant legal markets in their own right. This article outlines some key differences between these three markets so that you can make informed choices about where to focus your job search.
Houston is the fourth largest city in the United States, the largest city and legal market in Texas. It is widely known as the “Energy Capital of the World.” Obviously, then, attorneys interested in the energy industry should give Houston a close look. Litigation and corporate work are both readily available in this market, with the energy industry a major source of work under both umbrellas. Despite the significant weight of the energy industry, most Houston firms have begun diversifying their practices in recent years, so it’s likely that work in many other practice areas is available here. However, attorneys interested in real estate work or significant corporate work outside the energy industry may want to look elsewhere, as, according to Georgetown Law, Houston’s lack of zoning creates a unique absence of land use work. The Southern District of Texas, headquartered in Houston, is noteworthy as a significant and growing venue for complex bankruptcy cases, so attorneys interested in bankruptcy work should also consider Houston. Some of the most significant firms with a Houston presence are Vinson & Elkins, Norton Rose Fulbright, and Baker Botts, among many others (including 14 of the 15 biggest law firms by revenue).
Dallas is the ninth largest city in the U.S. and the second biggest legal market in Texas. Less focused on the energy industry, Dallas has a more diverse legal market than Houston does. Interestingly, Dallas is reputed to be the most open of the three markets to those without prior ties to Texas, so jobseekers from outside the state might want to look at the work available here if they’re keen on breaking into a Texas market. Oil & gas work is not as widely available here as in Houston, although a significant amount of corporate, real estate, and tax work (among other areas) is. A small sampling of the significant firms with a Dallas presence includes Haynes & Boone, Locke Lord, and Jackson Walker.
As Austin’s reputation as both a great place to live and a tech industry hub continues to grow, more and more jobseekers are looking for ways to break into this market. According to The Wall Street Journal, Austin is one of the two hottest overall job markets in the entire country—not to mention a U.S. News and World Report top place to live and one of the most rapidly growing markets in the country. Apple broke ground on a new campus in Austin in late 2019. The tech boom in Austin has drawn the attention of many big national and international law firms; Gunderson and Kirkland both opened an office there in 2021.Unfortunately, the Austin market is reputedly extremely difficult to break into without prior ties to Texas. For those with roots elsewhere who are desperate to break into the Austin market, your best bet is to either target a larger national firm with an office there, or to take a job in regional firm’s Houston or Dallas office and lateral into Austin after establishing some Texas bona fides.
Which of the three markets you should target depends primarily on whether you have prior ties to Texas and the type of work you’re interested in doing. Those whose primary interest is tech work should try to focus on Austin, although that city is difficult to break into without prior ties to Texas. If you’re interested in energy work, Houston is the obvious choice, and bankruptcy and restructuring work is very strong there as well. Finally, Dallas is a great place for almost any kind of sophisticated legal work, and is reputedly the easiest market for those without prior Texas ties to break into. We recommend consulting our Texas prestige rankings to learn more about top Texas firms; from there, you can check out the Vault Law profiles of any firm you’re interested in. Best of luck with your job search, whether you ultimately land in Texas or not!