Attorney headcounts at the nation's largest 250 law firms dropped by 1.1% this year, marking a second consecutive year of decreases, according to a recent survey by the National Law Journal. That's only the second time in the 33-year history of the NLJ 250 that back-to-back declines occurred.
In response to the drop in headcount and economic pressures, law firms are repositioning themselves in order to remain competitive. The survey found that the percentage of associates among the firms surveyed declined again in 2010, marking the lowest point for associates in the history of The NLJ's survey.
"Firms are feeling pressure from clients to do more with less," Joel Henning, principal of Joel Henning & Associates, a consultancy in Chicago, told the NLJ. "Law firms are having their hands held to the fire," he said. "They're throwing fewer bodies at cases and matters."
So if fewer associates are working in BigLaw, who is performing the work formerly performed by young lawyers? Paralegals are shouldering some of the workload as firms attempt to satisfy cost-conscious clients by billing tasks at the lowest rate possible. Some of the legal work is also being outsourced to low-cost geographies both onshore and off.