Business of Law

As BigLaw Firms Hold Steady on Attorney Headcount in DC, Consultant Points to 'Vulnerable' Partners

The biggest law offices in Washington, D.C., have been holding steady on lawyer headcount.

Eight out of the top 10 have maintained or slightly reduced their attorney rosters since the end of 2011. Two firms, Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom and Steptoe & Johnson, increased their stable of lawyers by 4 percent and 3 percent, respectively, reports the Washington Post (reg. req.) on its Capital Business page.

The District of Columbia is still a magnet for national and international firms that want a presence in the nation’s capital. And the workload for business lawyers tends to be less cyclical than in New York, where transactional needs fluctuate depending on the state of the economy and what’s happening on Wall Street, according to experts.

Nonetheless, as the legal industry continues to recover from the recession and deals with a paradigm shift in expectations of corporate clients, the road ahead for a number of law firms is uncertain, suggests Jeffrey Lowe. He serves as managing partner of the local office of the Major Lindsey & Africa legal consulting firm.

“Firms have done some belt-tightening but haven’t made a lot of hard decisions at the partner level,” Lowe told the newspaper. “Non-equity partners or equity partners who don’t have robust practices will be vulnerable in the years ahead. No one wants to let partners go, but as firms become more focused on the bottom line … that’s probably the next course of action. It sounds bleak, but it’s a very different world out there these days.”

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