The reports of Biglaw’s death are greatly exaggerated

The sky is not falling. Or if it is, it’s falling very, very slowly.

Yes, the legal industry is going through some major changes. The profession is becoming more business-focused than ever before, meaning that it’s harder out here for a partner. It’s also a tough time to graduate from a low-ranked law school if you’re not at the top of the class, as Elie Mystal has discussed at great length.

But for many law students and young lawyers, especially those with strong credentials from strong law schools, times are still good. For proof of this, consider on-campus interviewing (OCI), currently taking place at law schools around the country….

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What does 2013 hold for the world of large law firms? Let’s look into our crystal ball.

Actually, scratch that. Making predictions is a tricky business. Sometimes we’re right — like when we predicted robust bonuses out of Cravath, based on their large partner class — but sometimes we’re wrong.

For now, let’s keep our powder dry, and instead check out historical data about hours, billing rates, and corporate legal spending. Can we gain any insight into the future by looking back over the past?

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Biglaw needs to take a page out of the Burger King playbook and adopt a “Have It Your Way” attitude with its general counsel clients, according to a new study. In the words of the ABA Journal:

The recession has driven a power shift that now favors in-house counsel over the law firms they hire, a new report [PDF] has found.

About 75 percent of general counsel and law firm partners said the balance of power now lies with law firm clients, according to the report (PDF). A majority of both groups believe the power shift will be permanent.

We’re hearing more and more often from general counsels about the hot new trend of cutting back drastically on the number of outside firms they work with. The most dramatic example of this came from Levi Strauss, which slimmed its outside legal counsel down to size two.

The report says that 73% of GCs surveyed “admitted to either changing or reducing the number of their external legal advisers as a result of the recession.”

The 13-page report was commissioned by UK-based law firm Eversheds, but looks like it was designed by Barbie — lots of bubbles, and generous use of the color pink. It promises the death of the pyramid law firm structure and the move to “value billing.” It’s pretty, but is it substantive?

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