Reports nationally about law firm layoffs because of the recession have become common. Yet the impact on Indiana’s law firms, while not negligible, hasn’t caused the large numbers of lawyer and staff layoffs or other attention-grabbing headlines seen elsewhere.
Many believe Indiana and its legal community have been spared from the most extreme economic swings that have hit the coasts and Chicago because Indiana isn’t a financial center.
“Central Indiana business doesn’t seem to go through the dramatic ups and downs you see elsewhere. We’re definitely affected here but not to the same extent,” said Toby McClamroch, managing partner at Indianapolis-based Bingham McHale.
In talking with Indiana lawyers, one gets the sense that firms here are mindful of the recession but they also aren't willing to let fear drive decisions because there are still opportunities in the market. And the news isn't all bad because some firms are opening new offices and hiring attorneys and staff.
Indiana Lawyer talked with 16 law firms of varying sizes throughout the state about the economy, layoffs and firm growth. Extra information included only in this online version are partners' comments about rates and client relations, opportunities in the current economic climate, the merger and lateral markets, practice areas, summer programs, firm atmosphere, and what the future holds.
One national blog tracking large law firms has put layoffs from Jan. 1, 2008, through April 20, 2009, at more than 10,000, with almost half of those being attorneys. Only one Indiana firm has publicly announced attorney layoffs attributed to the economy.
Ã?Â On March 26, Indianapolis-based Bose McKinney & Evans Managing Partner Ken Crook announced a reduction in force of 10 attorneys, two paralegals, and 13 staff, all at the downtown Indianapolis office. The firm had 137 attorneys as of Jan. 22, 2009, according to the Indianapolis Business JournalÃ¢??s list of largest Indianapolis-area law firms. Indiana Lawyer and IBJ are owned by IBJ Media.
Other Indiana firms - although not attributing the moves directly to the economy - have also cut staff: Baker & Daniels eliminated nine administrative and operational staff positions in April and 22 staff positions in December 2008; Bose cut 11 administrative and operational staff Jan. 12, 2009; and Indianapolis-based Ice Miller announced a 2 percent reduction in its total workforce, including 14 support positions, Jan. 19, 2009. Also, Hoeppner Wagner & Evans in Valparaiso/Merrillville and Taft Stettinius &Ã?Â Hollister's Indianapolisoffice each cut two staff positions this year. No other firms interviewed reported any reductions in force, and all said they didnÃ¢??t currently anticipate having to cut attorneys or staff.
Thomas Froehle, chair and chief executive partner at Indianapolis-based Baker & Daniels, said a review of operations uncovered technological improvements that allowed the firm to run more efficiently with fewer employees. The firm also announced with the latest staff cuts that it had instituted a wage freeze for operational staff. When talking with IL, he declined to comment about rumored associate layoffs but said he could confirm the latest staff cuts.
Ice Miller also conducted an internal review looking at how to increase efficiency and productivity in every area, which resulted in trimming positions, according to Byron Myers, chief managing partner.
“I understand in times like these people might be skeptical of that (reason), but that’s the fact,” said Myers when asked whether the cuts were directly because of the economy.
When asked about a tip regarding forced de-equitizations of partners at large firms, these and other law firms said there have been no such actions.
Froehle said Baker & Daniels did have a number of people who changed status, but “people make life changes” and those people are still working at the firm.
“It’s hard to know what’s real,” Froehle said about the economy-related rumors involving various Indiana law firms.
A few partners also mentioned that during a tough economy, firms are quicker to no longer carry people who perhaps aren’t meeting expectations even though in a good economy the firm might have let them slide for a while.
There is a constant tension and balance between work flow and capacity. The difference in the current economy is there tends not to be as much opportunity to correct issues of performance, McClamroch said.
“In a good economy, you’re not always dealing with those issues; in the current economy, you address it a lot quicker than when the economy is stronger,” he said.
In order to ride out the recession successfully, law firms everywhere are looking at ways to be more efficient, including implementing salary or hiring freezes or even pay cuts, not replacing lawyers or staff who leave, deferring travel, reducing or foregoing bonuses, or instituting forced attrition or buyouts, among other things.
While many of the aforementioned actions might be good ideas, said Alan Levin, managing partner at Indianapolis-based Barnes & Thornburg, he added the firm has not implemented any of them. Because the firm is well diversified, it is weathering the current climate well; however, he noted, “This year will be challenging.”
Regarding layoffs, several echoed Levin, who said the firm doesn’t want to eliminate good people “because you’ll want them when the economy turns around.”
“In general, unless you’re going to cut for good, it’s an expensive proposition to replace people when the economy turns around,” said Bill Thompson, managing partner at Indianapolis-based Hall Render Killian Heath & Lyman, who noted it costs to recruit and train new people. “When you cut, you might end up with an associate doing staff work. We want people doing the right work: associates doing associate-level work and partners doing partner-level work.”
Nelson Alexander, member-in-charge at the Indianapolis office of Frost Brown Todd cautioned, “People shouldn’t take difficult decisions to mean being in trouble.”
All the firms interviewed for this report are monitoring their budgets closely, and some said they have set aside items for now.
“I think firms are looking at their overall spending” and the related whys and hows, said Crook.
“We looked at a lot of different ways to cut expenses,” McClamroch noted, adding that they have also trimmed the practice development budget for marketing various practice areas.
Indianapolis-based Krieg DeVault isn’t replacing attorneys who leave, according to managing partner Michael Williams. He said the firm is continually looking at expenses - leases, real estate costs, and at personnel ratios - but the firm did pay bonuses last year.
Also, none of the firms had implemented formal hiring freezes for attorneys, but several said they are being more selective about any hiring right now.
Myers said firms can look for resources such as contract lawyers or others for short-term work before deciding whether to permanently add someone so the firm can make sure the work is there to support that position.
Hoeppner Wagner & Evans made the decision to freeze wages in some instances, said Bill Satterlee, managing partner.
McClamroch said Bingham McHale implemented a hiring freeze for staff only - “It’s better than laying off people.”
Many firms are also encouraging their attorneys to attend continuing legal education sessions close to home, and firms are deferring some travel.
Froehle said Baker & Daniels has asked its own people throughout the firm for ideas about how to cut costs and be more efficient, some of which the firm has put into practice.
Most firms also have communicated with their employees either through meetings or internal messages about the state of their respective firms’ ability to weather the economic downturn.
In contrast, there are some positive stories within the legal community in Indiana.
“Just because we may plan down doesn’t mean we’ll stay down,” said Andy Mallor, a partner at Bloomington-based Mallor Clendening Grodner & Bohrer. The firm planned for 2009 carefully, including planning for decreased revenue; however, it also plans to expand its Indianapolis office this year.
While Hall Render Killian Heath & Lyman may not be growing as much as during 2008, Thompson said the firm is growing this year. The Indianapolis-based firm is on par to hire 10 to 12 attorneys firm wide. Since his initial interview with Indiana Lawyer in mid-March, Thompson said the firm has hired both attorneys and staff.
And, Barnes & Thornburg opened two new offices in April - one in Atlanta, another in Columbus, Ohio.
Fort Wayne-based Barrett & McNagny has hired a few associates, said Anthony Stites, a partner and executive committee member there.
“We’re actually doing pretty well,” said Gene Pinkus, a managing partner at Kopka Pinkus Dolin & Eads, which has offices in Indiana, Illinois, and Michigan. The firm’s largest Indiana office is in Crown Point, and its fastest-growing office is in Indianapolis.
“We’re growing right now,” said Pinkus, who noted they just hired another attorney and a few months ago hired a marketing director from a Chicago law firm.
And, despite the tough economy, some firms did give raises.
Stewart & Irwin President Mary Schmid said they knew 2009 would be tight so they kept raises to a minimum.
Lafayette firm Stuart & Branigin, and Barrett & McNagny were also among firms that gave raises this year.
Lean and efficient
What else can law firms do to increase efficiency in this economy?
“Lawyers are really bad at looking at their practices critically,” said Terry Farmer, managing partner at Evansville-based Bamberger Foreman Oswald & Hahn. “They’re too busy churning out work for their clients that they don’t think about how to do things better; businesses are always looking at how to do things better. Just because something worked well in the past doesn’t mean it’s always going to work well under different circumstances.”
“I think firms are much more adaptive and much more efficient today,” said Bob Hicks, remembering that law firms were impacted negatively by the economy in the early 1990s. Hicks is partner-in-charge at Taft Stettinius & Hollister’s Indianapolis office. “This is a revenue game, not an expense game.”
Frost Brown’s Alexander echoed that sentiment.
“If you’re already running an efficient business, the pressure to cut costs isn’t there. At the end of the day, there are only so many costs that can be cut,” said Alexander, who also stressed firms have to build the revenue side.
Law firms want to run lean, so Williams said Krieg DeVault is always looking for ways to have good staff-to-attorney ratios, but they also don’t want to impact client service negatively.
“Now is the time to focus on the fundamentals of the practice of law Ã¢?Â¦ your billing and collections system needs to be effective, your capital dollars you spend need to be efficient. Ã¢?Â¦ Now is not the time to cut back on marketing and business development; you need to invest in those,” said Hall Render’s Thompson. “Lawyers need to be more accountable on their administrative end, what clients they bring in, being timely in getting in time sheets, timely in getting business out the door, and timely in getting those collections.”
Besides looking at all expenditures, firms can look at how technology can help them be more productive and efficient, said Anthony Benton. He also noted that things are very different from 33 years ago when he joined Stuart & Branigin where he is a partner and chairman of the firm’s management committee.
“You have to have some sense of where you want to be when the economy turns around. You want some continuity. You can’t be short-sighted,” said Farmer. “We’re being careful how we spend our money, but we’re planning for when the downturn is over.”
End of the billable hour?
As happens every so often, some circumstance spurs people to surmise it’s the end of billable hours. The recession has purportedly raised the issue - or nonissue - again.
The economy is presenting a lot more interest in alternative options to the billable hour, said Alexander. To some degree, it’s a mutual move, but it’s often the clients who initiate the conversation, he said.
Taft has had alternative fee arrangements for years, said Hicks.
“We are getting more RFPs (request for proposal) now,” Crook noted. “I think one thing clients are looking for are fixed fees.”
Myers doesn’t see the billable hour model going by the wayside because people know it. He said Ice Miller does get asked about alternative billing, and the firm does do some of that.
As lawyers, Mallor said everyone should look at alternative fee arrangements and if they can provide bundled services; however, he said the vast majority of work the firm does is still via billable hours.
Billable hours will continue to be the most widely used method of clients fees, said McClamroch. He did note the firm has seen more requests, especially from larger corporate clients, for alternative billing arrangements. He added it’s the larger corporate clients who are more aggressive in asking for discounts and success-fee arrangements.
Regardless, all partners who were asked said the billable hour is here to stay.
Rates and relations
As businesses and people struggle with the current economy, the ripple effect also has impacted law firms’ client rates and receivables.
Nearly every firm Indiana Lawyer interviewed for this report noted that clients are slower to pay these days; instead of paying in 30 days, it takes 45 or 60 days, noted one attorney. In turn, some firms may pay partner draws later in the year.
Taft, Stewart & Irwin, Bingham McHale, and Hoeppner Wagner & Evans didn’t implement a general rate increase for 2009.
“We didn’t think it was appropriate,” said Satterlee of Hoeppner Wagner & Evans because of what clients are going through.
Bingham McHale’s McClamroch said rates are complicated because associate rates are lower than partners who have greater expertise and experiences.
“You have to take all that into account,” he said, adding that if firms do raise rates, there is more flexibility to raise rates at the experienced-associate level as opposed to new associates or partners.
Kopka Pinkus Dolin & Eads, an insurance-defense firm, never raises rates unilaterally, said Pinkus, who added the firm also never raises rates without discussing it with clients. He noted, however, their rates aren’t and can’t be as high as large, full-service law firms because the clients won’t pay those rates.
While Stuart & Branigin had no general rate increase for 2009, Benton said the firm has talked with all its significant clients and worked with them, being mindful of the clients’ current situation. However, that’s not to say everyone is doing badly.
“Not everyone is the auto industry,” said Benton.
“Clients are reluctant to spend money, especially on legal services, so we’ve been sensitive to that when we look at our rates,” said Hall Render’s Thompson.
Baker & Daniels’ rates are situational to its various practices and clients, said Froehle, who declined to elaborate further.
“A market like this challenges everybody,” said Crook, who added that Bose McKinney’s rates are determined on an almost client-by-client basis.
Because of the economy, Farmer noted the rate increase Bamberger Foreman implemented was less than it normally would have instituted.
Barrett & McNagny and Mallor Clendening Grodner & Bohrer also increased their rates for 2009, although Mallor said their increase wasn’t significant.
Other firms declined to comment about their rates, but every partner interviewed noted their respective firm was willing to work with clients for a reasonable resolution, including alternative fee arrangements.
Because of the economic impact on clients, firms also must take into account clients’ ability to pay. Are firms changing how they accept clients and their business?
While some firms interviewed for this report said they were looking more in-depth at clients’ and potential clients’ financial information, most firms indicated they already did that and were confident in their procedures in determining a client’s credit worthiness and fit with the firm.
While the firm hasn’t changed how it reviews clients’ financials, Mallor said, “We are monitoring accounts receivables much closer than we’ve ever done before. We try to get to people before there is a problem.”
Even during boom times, Myers said clients can have economic problems, so Ice Miller works with their clients to determine how they may be able to help clients overcome financial distress.
Regardless, he said the downturn has allowed “more time to nurture and maintain client relationships.”
Alexander also noted how the economy is creating opportunities for clients and their lawyers to communicate almost anew for their future benefit, adding that attorneys and clients can work together to creatively consider new ways to enhance the relationship and provide legal services to those clients.
“That’s an opportunity we all welcome,” he said.
Farmer said that if a practice area’s work had decreased, for instance, those attorneys can use that down time constructively by improving customer service, working on things that have piled up on their desks and things they’ve been meaning to get to instead of “sitting around wringing your hands worrying.”
Firms and clients have also been able to find new prospects because of the tumultuous economy.
“Anytime there’s economic dislocation, you owe it to yourself to look at what opportunities there are,” said Benton of Stuart & Branigin, which is currently involved in a strategic-planning process.
“Through adversity comes a lot of opportunity,” said Hicks at Taft.
He said firms may find work helping clients who are buying troubled companies or doing some opportunistic investing. Firms also may be able to get work from companies that have cut in-house counsel, although Hicks said companies won’t take cutting their in-house counsel lightly
The current economic market presents an opportunity for Midwest firms to attract big companies looking for quality legal services for less cost than what is found in the major financial centers, said Hicks.
“I think we’ll be able to see our revenues increase because of some of that,” he noted.
Stites said Barrett & McNagny is taking advantage of the fact it has specialized lawyers who have competitive rates so the firm has increased its marketing efforts. The firm has gotten results from that, too, because it is taking on more clients who are moving to regional law firms to take advantage of lower average rates.
“Clients can get good representation for a cost that makes more sense for them,” he said.
Stewart & Irwin also has increased its marketing. Schmid said the wrong thing to do in a bad economy is to cut or stop marketing.
Mallor said opportunities will come with Mallor Clendening Grodner & Bohrer’s Indianapolis expansion and the available talent pool as well as expanding into other practice areas.
There are also opportunities in Baker & Daniels’ Chicago office especially to get attorneys the firm might not have been able to attract during boom times, Froehle said. In Indianapolis, he said they’re being selective because they want to make sure the firm is in a position to keep them busy.
“A mistake a lot of people make is (to remember) the downturn isn’t permanent,” Mallor said.
Schmid added, “[This economy] offers a good opportunity for firms to focus on their core practice areas and cutting costs and frills not essential to the firm. It’s a good time to do strategic planning for the future and to clean house.”
In some ways, clients have great need now so Baker & Daniels is encouraging its attorneys to find ways to help clients, to become problem solvers. Clients, said Froehle, are very serious this year.
Pinkus noted many firms are getting out of the insurance-defense business, and they’ve noticed fewer people are attending and offering seminars for the practice area. Because of that, the firm has increased its marketing and its attorneys are working on their client relationships.
“Now’s the best time to invest in the firm for the future,” said Pinkus, noting the firm is upgrading technology among other things.
Also, the stimulus package has created a lot of opportunities. Most law firms interviewed are helping clients position themselves to get some of the funding that is being allocated in numerous areas including the health sector and for energy initiatives. Read Indiana Lawyer’s “Focus on the stimulus: Legal community gets boost from economic act.”
While certain sectors have the stimulus package, has the economy also stimulated law firm mergers or acquisitions?
Hall Render has been approached about merging by local and national firms, but Thompson said the reason is probably as much about the firm’s health-care focus as economic conditions.
While this merger-investigation activity is normal, Barnes & Thornburg’s Levin and Baker & Daniels’ Froehle haven’t seen it increase because of the economic downturn.
Barnes & Thornburg does get approached, but management looks for what makes sense, Levin said, noting there have been rumors about Barnes & Thornburg merging with law firm Michael Best & Friedrich based in Milwaukee, Wis. That talk, he said, is nothing more than rumor.
“We’re always looking for opportunities,” said Myers, who declined to comment about a reported merger of Ice Miller with Greenebaum Doll & McDonald, jointly based in Louisville and Cincinnati.
Satterlee said Hoeppner Wagner & Evans seriously considered a merger in 2008 but it didn’t work out; however, he said these types of opportunities are usually there but not as much during an economic downturn.
Stuart & Branigin, with offices in Lafayette and Indianapolis, has been approached in the past 18 months about a merger or acquisition. Benton said legal recruiters have even brought him names of other firms looking to merge; however, he said nothing really excited them.
McClamroch said Bingham McHale is always analyzing the legal market with merger activity and how a law firm should be situated strategically.
Although Barrett & McNagny is approached “fairly regularly” by larger firms, Stites said they are not actively pursuing any such arrangement. He added that some smaller firms also have approached the firm, and it did acquire a smaller firm a few years ago. But the firm currently isn’t pursuing any acquisitions either.
Mallor Clendening Grodner & Bohrer has been approached many times over the years to be acquired, and Mallor said they’ve had discussions in the past but not currently. He also said the firm hasn’t actively pursued acquiring another firm as of yet.
Laterals - local and beyond
Sometimes law firm mergers or acquisitions spur attorney movement. With the economic turmoil, are more lawyers looking to Indiana for potential jobs because the major metro legal markets seem unstable?
Many firms have received resumes from Chicago and even New York.
Taft just added “a phenomenal attorney” from New York for its Cincinnati office, according to Hicks. However, he said hiring “a great deal” from New York is a very selective endeavor because the firm’s need isn’t there and they can be selective among those from the coasts who are now in the job market.
“(The lateral pool is) as deep or deeper than I’ve ever seen it,” said Benton, who noted Stuart & Branigin is being contacted by a variety of attorneys.
He said the firm prefers the farm system of cultivating its lawyers; it hired four new associates last year. He also said legal recruiters have contacted the firm, but more interesting to Benton was three legal recruiters contacted him in a short period to see if he’d like to move to another firm. The answer was no.
Mallor in Bloomington agrees that more attorneys are looking for work now than at any other time in the past. That will help Mallor Clendening Grodner & Bohrer, which hopes to grow its Indianapolis office with three to five attorneys plus staff within the next year.
Regarding whether small markets can attract from large markets right now, Benton said it depends on what people are looking for. Stuart & Branigin has people in the firm who came from the West Coast. He noted that Lafayette is a stable community and great place to raise kids. Plus, neighboring West Lafayette and Purdue University help, Benton said, because some attorneys relocate with their spouses who have been hired to Purdue’s faculty.
During the economic downturn that hit 12 to 15 years ago, law firms in Indiana saw an increase of lateral moves from major economic centers to Indiana, recalled Alexander, who said he anticipates that will occur again. Alexander said he subscribes to the theory that this economy can provide as many opportunities as bad effects. Frost Brown Todd is interested in adding talented lawyers at any time and would make considerations depending on the firm’s long-term needs.
Levin and others also noted that often resumes that come from out-of-state are from people who either were raised here or have family in Indiana or who attended college or law school here.
Myers agreed, noting that people go to the large legal markets to work - maybe because of the salaries - and then want to return to Indiana. He said it’s a quality-of-life issue because Indiana’s cost of living is less expensive, and it offers a more balanced lifestyle.
Satterlee confirmed that, saying several of Hoeppner Wagner & Evans’ attorneys came from Chicago. After four or five years of working in a larger market, the attorneys decided they wanted to move to a smaller market. He said it was, in fact, a quality-of-life issue and they wanted a lifestyle change. This is a consistent experience and not just now, he said, noting that he’s actually seeing less of this now. He said if attorneys have a job, they may want to keep it instead of moving.
Froehle said there was one person in New York seeking to move laterally who said they’d be willing to relocate to Chicago or Indianapolis. While he’s not sure whether Baker & Daniels is receiving more lateral resumes, he said they are seeing a lot of interest in the firm’s Chicago office. Currently, there are nearly 15 attorneys there and the firm anticipates continuing to grow that location.
It’s also hard for attorneys to transplant from one market to another - from New York to Indianapolis, for instance - because much of the time attorneys can’t bring a book of business from one market to the other, attorneys say.
Satterlee said it would be rare for anyone coming from another area to bring any book of business with them.
Every economic cycle presents rewards and challenges, and the recession has changed dynamics of how certain practice areas are faring. Numerous firms noted real estate legal work has decreased. Some firms said the banking/lending practice has been adversely affected, which in turn has impacted some business practice groups. Mergers and acquisitions have slowed because of the credit crunch, many firms acknowledged.
Any discretionary type of legal work is also down, said Williams at Krieg DeVault.
While regular automotive practice work has decreased, Schmid said Stewart & Irwin is doing different types of work for those clients.
Mallor, whose firm represents car dealerships, also noted that area has gone to a “standstill” in the past six months.
Because Chicago law firms are having a rough year, does that translate directly to Northwest Indiana?
“The Northwest Indiana legal community doesn’t have much of a relationship with Chicago,” said Satterlee, who noted there is, however, a relationship between the steel industry and the auto industry and Northwest Indiana.
Just as elsewhere in the state, Evansville attorneys are seeing a downturn in the residential real estate area, but Farmer said the commercial real estate business seems to be OK at this point. He credits the fact that Evansville has a good network of community banks, which he surmises are giving loans.
McClamroch, like others, noted the Indiana legal market doesn’t serve the financial services industry the way larger metropolitan legal markets do, and this recession has been driven primarily by the financial services meltdown.
Domestic relations and estate-planning work have remained constant so far, Mallor added. However, trends nationally show dissolutions work is slowing, he noted.
Hall Render’s singular focus on health law, said Thompson, is what has buffered it from the downturn. But even in the health field, he said transactional business is down.
In general, firms are redeploying attorneys in slow areas to other practice areas where their knowledge can be used.
An area that is seeing increases is creditor’s rights - bankruptcies and foreclosures. And nearly every firm said the labor and employment area is doing well because companies are seeking legal advice regarding terminations and restructuring employment contracts.
Also, depending on what Congress does with the pending Employee Free Choice Act, Levin said it may spur more business for labor and employment practices. The bipartisan Employee Free Choice Act, among other things, would give workers the choice of whether to form a union either through majority signup or a National Labor Relations Board.
And, although finance and insolvency/creditors practices are getting busier, Barnes’ Levin said it may get even busier yet this year.
Taft is also seeing strong litigation and restructuring activity, said Hicks, who noted that while the mergers and acquisitions, real estate, and new financings are trailing last year’s numbers, they are starting to pick up again.
Crook said environmental and public entities practices are also doing well.
“That’s one of the victims of the economy,” said Benton, whose firm Stuart & Branigin will not have a summer program this year.
Because the firm uses the program for hiring and it doesn’t anticipate needing to hire, he said it wouldn’t be fair to the law students. The firm had two attorneys retire last year and it hired four associates, three of which had participated in the summer program.
Satterlee said this is the first year he can recall Hoeppner Wagner & Evans won’t have a summer clerk because they don’t plan to hire new attorneys this year or in 2010. He said they usually saved one clerk position for an Indiana Conference for Legal Education Opportunity student in years past.
Several firms - Baker & Daniels, Barnes & Thornburg, Bingham McHale, Barrett & McNagny and Krieg DeVault - were among those that anticipated smaller summer associate programs this year.
Levin did note Barnes & Thornburg did not rescind any offers to the 12 associates who began in September 2008.
Taft made offers in early fall 2008 to two or three summer clerks for summer 2009. The firm also didn’t trim the number of those coming on in September because that decision was made two years ago.
“You have to be careful not to have a knee-jerk reaction and change how you hire,” Hicks said.
Frost Brown Todd had six summer associates last year, and Alexander said they will have six or seven this year, as will Hall Render.
Bose McKinney & Evans, despite the recent layoffs, will have its summer associate program. The firm usually has three or four associates but Crook wasn’t sure the exact number of this year’s class when he was interviewed.
Ice Miller will also have a summer program. The firm’s summer associate numbers fluctuate every year, according to Myers, who said the firm never starts with a set number.
Stewart & Irwin had two summer associates last year and will so again this year.
Schmid has another perspective to witness the economy’s impact because she teaches at the Indiana University School of Law - Indianapolis. She’s heard from students that law firm offers are down significantly and many firms aren’t hiring first years right now.
Mallor Clendening Grodner & Bohrer doesn’t have a formal program, but Mallor said they do have clerks they grow into potential hires. As a mid-size firm, he said they are much more dependent on need regarding whether they’ll hire someone.
Kopka Pinkus Dolin & Eads doesn’t have a summer program because it doesn’t hire new lawyers.
A more in-depth report about Indiana law students, summer programs, and the economy will be in the May 13-26, 2009, issue of Indiana Lawyer.
Although there may not be a difference in productivity, people have noticed a change in atmosphere or attitudes in the firms.
“I have never seen a recession like this one because it’s so pervasive,” said Crook, who has been practicing law since 1972. “People are just very concerned.”
“Everyone’s a little on edge,” said Myers, noting it’s not so much in the office but everywhere. However, he said working with clients on stimulus monies has given the firm a “sense of energy.”
“People are concerned; they watch the nightly news. Law firms aren’t fun places to work, but people here tend to be cheerful. People aren’t as cheerful as usual,” said Farmer at Bamberger Foreman. “People are worn out by the bad news, and it’s affecting their demeanor.”
Froehle said Baker & Daniels has had more meetings and written communication with its employees to keep people informed regarding the economic impact on the firm. Other firms also have increased communication with all their employees to help quell any anxiety or fears - real or imagined - brought on by the recession. Others have operated as business as usual.
“Everyone is a little nervous,” noted Williams, who said he’s heard from people how they’re grateful to have jobs. He also noted how people seem more willing to go the extra mile at work these days.
Stites said the firm’s “environment day in and day out has been pretty good,” but yes, there is a “more conservative and cautious approach” among Barrett & McNagny’s management.
What the future holds
Everyone wonders what the economic future will bring personally and professionally, whether that affects plans for retirement or how their law firm will fare.
Nearly everyone interviewed said they knew someone either at their respective firms or in general who has put off retirement - either now or for a few years - because of the recession and losses to retirement accounts.
“I think everyone is not anticipating having a good year in 2009 Ã¢?Â¦. It will be OK but not as good as 2007 or 2008,” said Hicks.
“We’re fortunate to have a pretty diverse client base,” said Stites, who said Barrett & McNagny is a good size firm to weather the storm.
“We continue to be optimistic that our firm’s singular focus on health law will see us through this economic downturn,” said Thompson at Hall Render.
The Indiana legal community is comprised of a number of small and mid-size firms, and it’s hard for firms that size to weather an economic storm so Thompson said he anticipates the market will see more consolidations. He said it’s not so much the size and the client base because he said larger general practice firms will be fine.
“So far, I think the economy in Lafayette and Tippecanoe County has been relatively good when you compare it to the rest of the state,” said Benton. He said he thinks Tippecanoe and Monroe counties’ economies are helped by Purdue and Indiana universities.
“While the universities aren’t recession-proof, I do think they have a buffering effect on the surrounding communities,” he said.
Mallor agreed, and said Bloomington is faring pretty well and is still growing despite the recession.
Satterlee at Hoeppner Wagner & Evans said if Chicago gets the Olympics for 2016, that will help Northwestern Indiana’s economy, including encouraging expansion at the Gary airport.
There are various things firms can do to prepare for the future, said Myers. Ice Miller has had internal training so attorneys can work in areas other than their usual practice. He noted the firm does this type of training all the time - not just during a tough economy - so if work slows in one practice, these attorneys can help elsewhere.
“You have to stay flexible, keep looking for opportunities,” Myers. “Don’t panic. Hang in there.”
Hicks said he also thinks there will be a national trend to lower associate salaries, noting it’s already started at law firms in Cleveland and both coasts. He declined to predict whether the Indiana market would follow suit.
“Rationality tends to win out,” noted Hicks, who added he doesn’t believe the Indiana legal market will see an emergency situation.
“I think this is a circumstance we’ll all work through,” said Hicks.
“It’s a pretty good legal community in Indiana. People are recognizing Indiana more and looking at the talent and market here,” Pinkus said.
Firms in Chicago, Milwaukee, and Kentucky seem to want to be in Indiana or merge with an Indiana firm, he said, so firms here must be doing something right.