Down times in 2009

March 8, 2010
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Was 2009 really the worst year for the legal market in the past 50 years? Apparently so, according to a report released earlier this month analyzing the legal market last year and trends expected for this year.

Hildebrandt Baker Robbins consulting firm and Citi Private Bank claim last year was really bad – so bad that most attorneys practicing now are too young to remember a worse time.

Demand for legal services declined at a faster pace in 2009 than in 2007 and 2008, outside counsel spending dropped, billing and collection realization rates fell, and many in the legal community lost their jobs. More than 5,000 attorneys lost their jobs last year with the top 250 law firms in the country; thousands more attorneys, paralegals, and other legal professionals lost jobs. I’d say last year was pretty bad.

Looking ahead to 2010, the report may see a glimmer of hope for recovery, but nothing to get excited about. Although fewer legal workers have lost their jobs recently, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics, there will still be cost-cutting measures, which could include jobs. In trouble could be partners, whose numbers grew during the downturn. Chances are profits per equity partner will be flat or up slightly, but it’s dependent on location, practice, clients, etc.

The report also emphasizes the impact rate increases during 2001 through 2007 had on the growth of law firms and the legal market. Firms often increased rates 6 to 8 percent each year, but now clients are pushing back. This push back is likely to stick around for a while. The report encourages firms to implement new models for pricing legal services, as well as recruiting and retaining attorneys, and partnering with other service providers.

It’s a “buyers market” right now. Have you seen any changes in your firm to respond to any of the issues addressed in the report?
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  1. The practitioners and judges who hail E-filing as the Saviour of the West need to contain their respective excitements. E-filing is federal court requires the practitioner to cram his motion practice into pigeonholes created by IT people. Compound motions or those seeking alternative relief are effectively barred, unless the practitioner wants to receive a tart note from some functionary admonishing about the "problem". E-filing is just another method by which courts and judges transfer their burden to practitioners, who are the really the only powerless components of the system. Of COURSE it is easier for the court to require all of its imput to conform to certain formats, but this imposition does NOT improve the quality of the practice of law and does NOT improve the ability of the practitioner to advocate for his client or to fashion pleadings that exactly conform to his client's best interests. And we should be very wary of the disingenuous pablum about the costs. The courts will find a way to stick it to the practitioner. Lake County is a VERY good example of this rapaciousness. Any one who does not believe this is invited to review the various special fees that system imposes upon practitioners- as practitioners- and upon each case ON TOP of the court costs normal in every case manually filed. Jurisprudence according to Aldous Huxley.

  2. Any attorneys who practice in federal court should be able to say the same as I can ... efiling is great. I have been doing it in fed court since it started way back. Pacer has its drawbacks, but the ability to hit an e-docket and pull up anything and everything onscreen is a huge plus for a litigator, eps the sole practitioner, who lacks a filing clerk and the paralegal support of large firms. Were I an Indiana attorney I would welcome this great step forward.

  3. Can we get full disclosure on lobbyist's payments to legislatures such as Mr Buck? AS long as there are idiots that are disrespectful of neighbors and intent on shooting fireworks every night, some kind of regulations are needed.

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  5. "No one is safe when the Legislature is in session."

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