Meet the new Biglaw. Same as the old Biglaw.

As we mentioned in Morning Docket, the Wall Street Journal has a good article about how various recession-era cutbacks have become entrenched in Biglaw. If you have been paying attention or are a current law student, you know the issues: smaller entry-level classes, stagnant salaries, and a partnership track long enough to make a first-year Ph.D. student laugh.

Basically, if you were already a Biglaw partner when the recession hit, you are likely to say, “What recession?” Your profits per partner have probably gone up, despite the general economy’s woes. Other industries use economic downturns to retool their business models and develop new ways to compete. Not Biglaw. It appears that Biglaw has used the recession to fire a bunch of people, exclude new partners, and keep associate salaries and bonuses at recessionary levels. They haven’t developed a new business model; they’ve just found a way to reduce the costs of the old business model.

Biglaw partner: It’s great work if you can get it. The WSJ even found one partner who was so busy loving himself and his life that he appears to be totally oblivious to the struggles of everybody else…

It’s not going to surprise anybody that the “hiring partner” who sounded the most out of touch with people who actually need a job is from White & Case. As you may recall, White & Case took to firing people like a fish to water. So it’s no wonder that one of their partners has the memory of a goldfish:

“The efficiency of law practice has just changed dramatically in the past five years,” says Bill Dantzler, a hiring partner and head of the firm’s tax practice. “We don’t have to have these armies of young associates. It’s good for the clients, it’s good for everybody.”

I don’t think “everybody” means what Bill Dantzler thinks it means.

For instance, disbanding “armies” of young associates is demonstrably not good for law students at low-ranked law schools who hoped to make six figures in salary after taking on six figures of debt:

[R]eputable firms can be even more picky about whom they hire. While firms still compete for the highest-ranking graduates from Ivy League and other top law schools, it is a different story for solid candidates who lack gold-plated résumés. Students with lower class rankings or from second-tier schools who once would have made the cut “wouldn’t have a prayer of getting in now,” Mr. Dantzler says.

But remember, kids, being plated with gold doesn’t leave you a lot of room to breathe:

For those who do land jobs at big law firms, the hours remain grueling. In 2010 associates at firms with more than 700 lawyers billed an average of 1,859 hours — the equivalent of more than seven hours a day — according to the National Association for Law Placement.

As head counts fell, the average workload for those associates has risen 2.3% since 2007, or about 50 extra hours a year.

Please stop me when we get to the part where this is good for “everybody.”

I could beat up on Dantzler some more because his quotes make him sound like the Terminator who doesn’t understand why humans cry, but the truth is that there is nothing in this WSJ article that should be new to any kid who has matriculated at law school in the past three years.

Salaries are stagnant, hours are up, and making partner is like trying to find an island that only appears to people who have been there before. If you go to a second-tier law school, or really any school outside of the top 50, there’s almost no point in even trying to get a Biglaw job. If you didn’t already know this, you are a damn idiot who makes decisions without first researching the relevant facts not familiar with reality.

Biglaw hasn’t changed; partners have just realized that new associates are dumber and more desperate than they previously imagined. And a whole new class of lemmings is just a few months away from graduation.

Law Firms Keep Squeezing Associates [Wall Street Journal]

Earlier: Nationwide Layoff Watch: White & Case Brings Layoffs into the Vault Top 20


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