As we enter the roaring twenties, we look back on how the landscape of Biglaw has changed over the last ten years – from the height of the recession in 2010 to the recent bullish market. Here are some of the significant trends in from the last decade.
1) No Longer Swiping Left On Law.
Undergraduate students are once again taking the LSAT after the test taking rate dropped to a near nadir in 2015. Though there have been rumblings of a recession – which we have yet to realize – we predict this trend will continue into the new decade if firm expansion and growth continues, providing more landing spots for incoming attorneys.
2) California Dreaming.
Firms extended their reach across the U.S., as the second wave of manifest destiny also…manifested itself. Gone are the days where a California office was seen as a luxury, a sentiment mirrored by 41 Am Law 200 firms that opened offices in Los Angeles in the last decade and another 27 and 25 firms opened office in San Francisco and Palo Alto, respectively. Texas saw firms pour in, especially towards the second half of the decade. We predict smaller markets will continue to burgeon as firms look to take advantage of the relative cost-savings compared to the expensive New York, Los Angeles and D.C. markets, and the propagation of sophisticated clients to what was previously thought of as tertiary markets continues as technology erases physical barriers.
3) Feed Me Seymour.
Lewis Brisbois rounded out the decade as the most popular lateral destination of any Am Law 200 firm, lateralling in 1,914 attorneys, or to put it in more topical terms, the same number of people who went to see Cats during its opening weekend. Their overall headcount grew a healthy 150%. Unsurprisingly, lateral movement correlated strongly with firm size, but some firms take a page from the Lakers and rely much more on lateral movement than entry level hiring.
4) Growth Is Good.
Polsinelli has “glowed up” over the last decade, increasing their headcount a whopping 2200%. In an increasingly competitive landscape, firms are bifurcating largely into two groups – the firms seeking high margin work with a lean staffing model, and a lower margin model that offsets smaller margins with higher volume. What we’ve seen over the last decade is the chasm between these two groups has risen and the middle ground that used to be well populated has become increasingly sparse. We predict as time goes on, this trend will only continue.
5) PPP For Me.
PPP rose 33% over the course of the decade, and partner compensation rose in tandem. Associate salaries also rose to record highs, but these gains are offset by inflation and rising costs of living. Barring another recession, we predict this trend will continue into the next decade, though the pace of growth may slow.
6) To Everything, Merge, Merge, Merge.
Ten years ago, Sonneschein Nath Rosenthal and Denton Wilde Sapte combined into what would become SNR Denton, a healthy firm with a little over 1,000 attorneys. Ten years later, Dentons is a powerhouse with over 10,000 attorneys after consummating an additional 10 more mergers or acquisitions with firms with over 100 attorneys, the largest of which saw them bring on Dacheng’s 3,000+ attorneys in China. With offices spanning 78 countries, there may soon be a day where there are more countries that have a Denton’s office than those that don’t.