Charlotte is widely known as one of the top banking & finance hubs in the United States, and in fact is the second largest in the country behind New York in terms of assets under management. Bank of America and the east coast operations of Wells Fargo are headquartered here (the latter owing to their buyout of Charlotte-based banking giant Wachovia during the Great Recession.) Charlotte offers a mild climate while still boasting four distinct seasons, is 3 hours from some of the country’s best beaches and 2 hours from passable ski resorts (I must admit to a bit of ski snobbery having grown up in New England), and is also home to one of the fastest growing wine and craft brewery regions in the United States. It’s a great place to call home and provides an excellent quality of life on even modest incomes. As a result, people from all over the country have begun to relocate here, and from the year 2000 to the present Charlotte has seen a 43% growth in population.
However, due in large part to its deep ties to the domestic and international banking community, Charlotte was particularly hard hit by the Great Recession of 2008. The bottom fell out of the CMBS and residential lending markets, and the ripple effects were felt through every sector of Charlotte’s economy, from bankers and lawyers on down to bartenders and day-care workers. What followed were some of the city’s darkest years, and the lateral associate market slowed to a crawl. Thousands of local lawyers lost their jobs, and those who were still lucky enough to have them weren’t going anywhere.
Thankfully, over the last few years things seem to have turned the corner. Much of the Class-A commercial office space which had for years lain dormant in Charlotte’s Uptown region has been put under contract. New commercial construction has returned to the area, housing prices have begun to approach their pre-2008 levels, and overall there is a palpable feel that Charlotte is rising from the ashes to the position of prominence it once held in the Southeast and, more broadly, throughout the entire country. Those of us who call Charlotte home see nothing but good times ahead.
As goes the local economy, so goes the local legal market. Practice areas which had suffered during the recession (Commercial Real Estate, Construction, and Corporate-related work such as M&A, Securities, and Private Equity) have begun to bounce back. Bankruptcy, which was one of the few practices areas to thrive during the economic downturn, has slowed somewhat. The increase in jobs and, by extension, income has also led to an increased need for Tax and Wealth Management lawyers. Intellectual Property work, long a trailing indicator of economic health, has also seen a marked increase. In short, Charlotte’s legal market, while still not firing on all eight cylinders, has found its legs again and is beginning to run strong.
At the moment, hot areas of practice in Charlotte are:
- Debt Finance, particularly among our AmLaw 100 clients;
- Corporate & Securities law, with many firms now more willing than ever to consider transactional generalists who may be looking to re-tool into a specific niche;
- Intellectual Property Prosecution and Litigation;
- Trust & Estate Law and Corporate Tax;
- Regulatory Law, particularly in the Healthcare industry; and
- Immigration, as many firms seek to position themselves for pending immigration reform.
Alas, some practice areas are struggling. Commercial Litigation, which saw a tremendous amount of play in late 2012 and through much of 2013, has slowed. Residential Real Estate enjoyed a tremendous year in 2013 as rates fell and refinances were at an all-time high, but as rates and housing prices have crept back up the refi’s have slowed and new home purchases have not yet expanded to fill the void. There is still a lot of room for growth here, and the hope is that things continue to improve.
In short, Charlotte’s legal market has seen its worst days and has lived through them. The Queen City continues to bounce back and, if current trends continue, will soon reclaim its position as one of the true Jewels of The South.