Vanishing Act: Large Law Firms Shrink for the Second Year in a Row

Vanishing Act: Large Law Firms Shrink for the Second Year in a Row

1,400 attorneys disappeared from the nation's 250 largest law firms this year, a nightmarish magic act repeating the decline from 2009.  The National Law Journal survey of the nation's largest firms revealed a 1.1% drop in headcount in 2009, following an even more dramatic loss of 4% in 2009.  The  Journal  reports that this is the largest two year decline since it began doing the survey 33 years ago, and only the second time there has been a loss of attorney headcount two years in a row. (Previously this occurred in 1992-1993 on a lesser scale). 

The group impacted the most-associates.  One thousand of the 1,400 attorney job losses were in the associate ranks.  The  Journal  survey indicates a 1.5% drop in the total number of associates working at the largest 250 firms.  Firms brought on 5,335 new associates in 2010-but that total also included deferrals from the previous year. 

The number of partners increased ever so slightly in 2010, up by 0.6% according to the survey.  In 2009, partnership ranks grew by 0.9%.  The largest gains were reported in the "other" category, which includes non-partner  and staff attorneys.  The  Journal  predicts a continuation of this trend as firms hire fewer associates and instead assign that work to contract and temporary attorneys, staff attorneys and other less expensive legal professionals.  The days of firms hiring large numbers of associates as they did before the 2007 recession are not expected to return any time soon, if ever, according to the report.


The National Law Journal