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15 Jan

‘Big Law’ Firms Continue to Struggle as ‘Large Enough’ Firms Thrive

by: Astor Professional Search

The world’s largest law firms are still feeling the heat from their stagnated approaches, as discussed in last week’s post.  A report released by CounselLink concluded that firms with 201 to 500 attorneys–termed “large enough” firms–are “increasingly winning the market share at the expense of the largest U.S. law firms.”

CounselLink Strategic Consulting Director Kris Satkunas suggests that the success of these ‘large enough’ firms is generally due to lower billing rates (for similar levels of service) and the increased willingness to engage in AFAs, the ‘Alternative Fee Arrangements’ widely preferred by clients today.  She reports that as a result, corporate clients are “finding the same value from this size law firm for less or at least more predictable costs–and that is driving the migration of legal work into this segment of the law firm market.”

This trend is exemplified in the recent layoffs by megafirm Reed Smith, a 1750+ attorney firm who laid off 45 lawyers and a “comparable” number of administrative staff in January 2016, according to their press statement.  Sandy Thomas, the global managing partner at Reed Smith who gave the statement, blamed the layoffs on the “fundamental shift in the nature of the demand for, and the delivery of, legal services in recent years.”

Another ‘big law’ firm, global giant Dentons, (now, with a 6,600 employee headcount, the largest law firm in the world), has been the subject of skepticism for its continued ‘bigger is better’ growth philosophy.  Jordan Furlong of global law firm consultancy Law21 argues that since there are already many multinational firms, “having dozens of offices and thousands of lawyers isn’t enough to set you apart, and I’m not sure if 80 offices and 8,000 lawyers will do it either” (as quoted in The American Lawyer).

Time will tell if “bigger really is better” for today’s law firms, but for now, all signs seem to point to an ideal amalgamation of factors for middle market firms to flourish.

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