Tough times for lawyers

November 9, 2009
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It’s been a tough year for attorneys, especially associates, according to the National Law Journal’s 2009 NLJ 250. In fact, the publication reports that this is the worst year for attorneys as far as how many are practicing since it began counting lawyers at big firms 32 years ago.

Based on NLJ’s research, more than 5,200 attorneys are no longer working at the top 250 firms; associates and “other” attorneys were hit the hardest. The percentage of those attorneys shrank by nearly 9 percent each. Not surprisingly, partner employment remained about the same.

The NLJ estimates a 4 percent drop in attorney headcount as compared to last year. This is only the third time headcount has dropped since the NLJ has been keeping track of attorneys at the top firms and is the biggest drop it’s seen. The publication also believes this may just be the beginning of declining attorney numbers.

Several firms with Indiana ties made the top 250 list, including: Littler Mendelson at 45; Barnes & Thornburg at 87; Ogletree Deakins Nash Smoak & Stewart at 100; Frost Brown Todd at 113; Taft Stettinius & Hollister at 139; Baker & Daniels at 149; and Ice Miller at 169.

Of the big three based in Indiana, Barnes had the best results by jumping up nearly 20 places from last year. The firm even bucked the trend and added seven associates. Baker and Ice both dropped compared to last year. Baker added 12 attorneys, but reduced the number of associates by 24. Ice lost 16 attorneys and reduced its associate numbers by 13.

Are you surprised at how Indiana firms faired? Is this really just the beginning of the downturn for top law firms or will the economy improve in time for next year’s numbers to be better?
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  1. I grew up on a farm and live in the county and it's interesting that the big industrial farmers like Jeff Shoaf don't live next to their industrial operations...

  2. So that none are misinformed by my posting wihtout a non de plume here, please allow me to state that I am NOT an Indiana licensed attorney, although I am an Indiana resident approved to practice law and represent clients in Indiana's fed court of Nth Dist and before the 7th circuit. I remain licensed in KS, since 1996, no discipline. This must be clarified since the IN court records will reveal that I did sit for and pass the Indiana bar last February. Yet be not confused by the fact that I was so allowed to be tested .... I am not, to be clear in the service of my duty to be absolutely candid about this, I AM NOT a member of the Indiana bar, and might never be so licensed given my unrepented from errors of thought documented in this opinion, at fn2, which likely supports Mr Smith's initial post in this thread: http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-7th-circuit/1592921.html

  3. When I served the State of Kansas as Deputy AG over Consumer Protection & Antitrust for four years, supervising 20 special agents and assistant attorneys general (back before the IBLE denied me the right to practice law in Indiana for not having the right stuff and pretty much crushed my legal career) we had a saying around the office: Resist the lure of the ring!!! It was a take off on Tolkiem, the idea that absolute power (I signed investigative subpoenas as a judge would in many other contexts, no need to show probable cause)could corrupt absolutely. We feared that we would overreach constitutional limits if not reminded, over and over, to be mindful to not do so. Our approach in so challenging one another was Madisonian, as the following quotes from the Father of our Constitution reveal: The essence of Government is power; and power, lodged as it must be in human hands, will ever be liable to abuse. We are right to take alarm at the first experiment upon our liberties. I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations. Liberty may be endangered by the abuse of liberty, but also by the abuse of power. All men having power ought to be mistrusted. -- James Madison, Federalist Papers and other sources: http://www.constitution.org/jm/jm_quotes.htm RESIST THE LURE OF THE RING ALL YE WITH POLITICAL OR JUDICIAL POWER!

  4. My dear Mr Smith, I respect your opinions and much enjoy your posts here. We do differ on our view of the benefits and viability of the American Experiment in Ordered Liberty. While I do agree that it could be better, and that your points in criticism are well taken, Utopia does indeed mean nowhere. I think Madison, Jefferson, Adams and company got it about as good as it gets in a fallen post-Enlightenment social order. That said, a constitution only protects the citizens if it is followed. We currently have a bevy of public officials and judicial agents who believe that their subjectivism, their personal ideology, their elitist fears and concerns and cause celebs trump the constitutions of our forefathers. This is most troubling. More to follow in the next post on that subject.

  5. Yep I am not Bryan Brown. Bryan you appear to be a bigger believer in the Constitution than I am. Were I still a big believer then I might be using my real name like you. Personally, I am no longer a fan of secularism. I favor the confessional state. In religious mattes, it seems to me that social diversity is chaos and conflict, while uniformity is order and peace.... secularism has been imposed by America on other nations now by force and that has not exactly worked out very well.... I think the American historical experiment with disestablishmentarianism is withering on the vine before our eyes..... Since I do not know if that is OK for an officially licensed lawyer to say, I keep the nom de plume.

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