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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