At this juncture post-Dewey and pre-apocalypse, we at Hanover Legal thought it may be useful to offer our view as to the current state of the legal market and our prognosis through Doomsday.
When Dewey Ballantine and LeBoeuf, Lamb, Greene & MacRae decided in 2007 to join forces to become Dewey & LeBoeuf, mortgage backed securities were still the rage, business was booming and few appreciated the intensity of the storm on the horizon. A mere one year later however, Dewey & LeBoeuf as well as every other major law firm had seen virtually all of its structured finance work disappear and some of those firms were soon to be history.
To be clear, 2011 was marked by stability in the world of BigLaw only in a relative sense, 2009 being characterized as perhaps the most tumultuous year in the history of major law firms and 2010 by paralyzing risk aversion and the refrain “flat is the new up.” Lateral hiring of associates and other service oriented attorneys picked up a trickle as the strongest of our major players sought to regain some of the bench strength they had let go in the aftermath of the 2008 Wall Street collapse, the leading pack ever thinning. Trimming and efficiency remained priorities as corporate clients continued to enjoy growing leverage over their law firm advisors, and law firm mergers and acquisitions were abundant as more players found themselves struggling merely to stay afloat while those not fortunate enough to accurately gauge the dangers around them or find healthier players on whom to link were swallowed up by the relentless waters around them.
Thankfully, the tsunami that claimed so many BigLaw casualties in 2009 and 2010 is increasingly a distant memory as the waters of 2011 have remained relatively tranquil. We are certainly not only leaner and more efficient but also more circumspect as we venture further into the heart of 2011, major American and British firms focusing more of their attention outward and exploring opportunities especially in the emerging foreign markets of the so-called BRIC countries – namely Brazil, Russia, India and China. Francis B. Burch, Jr., global chairman of DLA Piper explained: “If you look at where the large multinationals and the most attractive emerging technology companies are generating their revenue and their net income and where they expect to see the most growth, it’s in the BRIC countries.”
Our long held view that BigLaw is among the most conservatively run and change resistant industries on the planet seems understated in light of the tornedos that we’ve been experiencing of late. That said, 2010 served to raise awareness of issues critical to our long term viability such as globalization, diversification of practices as well as personnel, alternative billing and work-life balance and it appears that by and large, while still far from healthy, BigLaw is a better place to live and work as we enter 2011 than it was a year ago.