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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