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Law firm forecast sees declining profits

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Declining profits could be on the dockets of many law firms again this year.

New Jersey legal consultancy Hildebrandt International expects profit-per-partner, a measuring stick of firm success, to decline 5 to 15 percent.

If the forecast released earlier this month proves accurate, it would mark the second consecutive year in which the average profit for law firms has fallen, a dubious distinction almost unheard of in the legal profession. Profits ranged from between flat and minus 10 percent in 2008, Hildebrandt said. Companies battered by the reeling economy are scaling back on legal counsel, unless of course they need bankruptcy advice. To compensate, firms are taking such drastic measures as reducing bonuses, freezing associate salaries, postponing new initiatives, instituting layoffs, and weeding out unprofitable partners.

Mike Williams, managing partner of Indianapolis mid-size firm Krieg DeVault LLP, thinks the mega firms that have locations in the "money centers" - Chicago and coastal cities - are hurting the most.

Krieg DeVault has weathered the storm relatively unscathed, Williams said, although at least a handful of local rivals have trimmed support staff to cut costs.

"There's no question that with the downturn in the economy, some of the legal services that clients have used law firms for, it's not happening now," Williams said.

Real estate, financing, and merger-and-acquisition activity is particularly slow. Conversely, the deepening recession is generating more lawsuits driven by massive layoffs.

The Hildebrandt report said the gloomy conditions provide law firms a chance to adjust their business models to appeal more to clients, including offering them alternative billing options.

The billable hour is as outdated as the law library, advocates for alternative billing say. The more hours billed, the more money a firm makes, which could encourage inefficiency, they say.

The option that could challenge the billable hour is a fixed-fee structure that gives clients a more accurate upfront estimate for the cost of services, allowing them to better budget for the expense.

A contracting economy arguably is fanning the argument for fixed fees, said Bob Birge of Law Firm Marketing Network, who has supported the fixed-fee model for years. Yet, firms have been reluctant to abandon billable hours because they've driven profits.

"Things have been good," he said. "Why shake it up when everybody's been making money?"

If billing correctly, firms can maintain profits while keeping clients satisfied, Birge said. If a fee for a real-estate transaction typically ranges between $5,000 and $10,000, for instance, a firm might charge $7,000.

But, Birge added, "Because nobody else does it, no one does it."

Indeed, the Hildebrandt report said some firms would have a difficult time making changes it recommended.

"We've gone through a period where everyone got used to growth and expansion," said James Jones, a vice president of Hildebrandt, in a statement. "People haven't really had to look at doing more with less."

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  1. I will continue to pray that God keeps giving you the strength and courage to keep fighting for what is right and just so you are aware, you are an inspiration to those that are feeling weak and helpless as they are trying to figure out why evil keeps winning. God Bless.....

  2. Some are above the law in Indiana. Some lined up with Lodges have controlled power in the state since the 1920s when the Klan ruled Indiana. Consider the comments at this post and note the international h.q. in Indianapolis. http://www.theindianalawyer.com/human-trafficking-rising-in-indiana/PARAMS/article/42468. Brave journalists need to take this child torturing, above the law and antimarriage cult on just like The Globe courageously took on Cardinal Law. Are there any brave Hoosier journalists?

  3. I am nearing 66 years old..... I have no interest in contacting anyone. All I need to have is a nationality....a REAL Birthday...... the place U was born...... my soul will never be at peace. I have lived my life without identity.... if anyone can help me please contact me.

  4. This is the dissent discussed in the comment below. See comments on that story for an amazing discussion of likely judicial corruption of some kind, the rejection of the rule of law at the very least. http://www.theindianalawyer.com/justices-deny-transfer-to-child-custody-case/PARAMS/article/42774#comment

  5. That means much to me, thank you. My own communion, to which I came in my 30's from a protestant evangelical background, refuses to so affirm me, the Bishop's courtiers all saying, when it matters, that they defer to the state, and trust that the state would not be wrong as to me. (LIttle did I know that is the most common modernist catholic position on the state -- at least when the state acts consistent with the philosophy of the democrat party). I asked my RCC pastor to stand with me before the Examiners after they demanded that I disavow God's law on the record .... he refused, saying the Bishop would not allow it. I filed all of my file in the open in federal court so the Bishop's men could see what had been done ... they refused to look. (But the 7th Cir and federal judge Theresa Springmann gave me the honor of admission after so reading, even though ISC had denied me, rendering me a very rare bird). Such affirmation from a fellow believer as you have done here has been rare for me, and that dearth of solidarity, and the economic pain visited upon my wife and five children, have been the hardest part of the struggle. They did indeed banish me, for life, and so, in substance did the the Diocese, which treated me like a pariah, but thanks to this ezine ... and this is simply amazing to me .... because of this ezine I am not silenced. This ezine allowing us to speak to the corruption that the former chief "justice" left behind, yet embedded in his systems when he retired ... the openness to discuss that corruption (like that revealed in the recent whistleblowing dissent by courageous Justice David and fresh breath of air Chief Justice Rush,) is a great example of the First Amendment at work. I will not be silenced as long as this tree falling in the wood can be heard. The Hoosier Judiciary has deep seated problems, generational corruption, ideological corruption. Many cases demonstrate this. It must be spotlighted. The corrupted system has no hold on me now, none. I have survived their best shots. It is now my time to not be silent. To the Glory of God, and for the good of man's law. (It almost always works that way as to the true law, as I explained the bar examiners -- who refused to follow even their own statutory law and violated core organic law when banishing me for life -- actually revealing themselves to be lawless.)

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