Business of Law

17,500 BigLaw Jobs at Risk? Consultant Denies ‘Evil Plot’ by MPs


A law firm consultant who blogged about the possible loss or shifting of 17,500 BigLaw jobs is trying to put a lid on speculation about the reasons for her forecast.

In an interview with the American Lawyer, Hildebrandt managing director Lisa Smith said her words were “just some initial thoughts on what we see going on.”

In her blog post, Smith wrote that 17,500 associate and staff attorney jobs could be lost or shifted as a result of staffing changes driven by pressures for lower costs. She argued that outsourcing, efficiencies and increased hiring of staff attorneys could mean a different mix of staff and associate lawyers—and an overall reduction in head count in the next five to seven years. The 17,500 jobs at risk amount to 27 percent of the total nonpartner jobs in BigLaw.

In the American Lawyer interview, Smith explained the thinking behind her post. “If some of these trends we’re seeing now continue, what are the implications of that overall?” Smith said. “All of these shifts are replacing jobs, as opposed to just changing the mix as firms continue to grow.”

After ABAJournal.com reported on Smith’s blog post Monday morning, Above the Law looked at the post with a critical eye. Smith’s numbers appear to be pulled out of thin air, the blog said, and the message behind her post appears to be: “I bet you can fire 27 percent of the people who work for you. I could tell you why, but I’m guessing you don’t really care. How ’bout we just call it ‘efficiency savings?’ ”

Smith appeared to be addressing that criticism in her interview with the American Lawyer. “I think what’s easy to lose sight of is that this is not some evil plot schemed by law firm managing partners or partners generally,” Smith says. “This ultimately starts with the overall economic activity that trickles down to what the clients need. And if there’s less economic activity, clients won’t need as much M&A work, and they’re going to be much more price-sensitive on litigation and other work. That’s what we’re seeing drive some of these [job] changes at law firms.”

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