Wednesday, May 4, 2011
The practice of law, especially in large law firms, has been affected significantly by recent economic conditions. The recession of 2008-2009 brought about a new way of doing business for BigLaw. The year 2009 was the worst ever for law firm layoffs: more law firms laid off more employees than in all past years combined. Major law firms laid off more than 12,100 people over one-third of whom were lawyers. (It is likely that the number of layoffs was dramatically under-reported.) Moreover, some major law firms simply disappeared. As a direct result of large companies' decreased need for the sophisticated legal services typically provided by large law firms, the nation's largest firms have implemented various measures that are likely to have long-term effects on the hiring, retention, promotion, and training of lawyers.
Historically, a large number of law school graduates sought employment in the nation's largest law firms. The reasons for this interest are many, including money, prestige, training, and the opportunity to do sophisticated work for large clients. Thus, one of the functions of law schools is to produce graduates who are capable of providing high level legal services and who can enter a large law firm and be successful. Law firms are looking for associates who exhibit sound judgment and creative and efficient problem solving abilities. To fulfill their function of producing practice-ready graduates, law schools must adapt to the new economic realities and their effects: fewer big firm jobs, alternate methods of billing clients, increased emphasis on marketing, moderated pay increases (and in some cases, decreased pay), fewer opportunities for partnership, and less job security. The challenge for legal education is how best to prepare students for this brave new BigLaw world.