Law Firms

Is the death of BigLaw overhyped?


Is BigLaw really in its last days, as proclaimed this week in an article by the New Republic? Or is it “alive, well and rich”?

Some commentators are taking issue with the New Republic, which airs this “common hypothesis”: Most BigLaw firms will eventually collapse or reinvent themselves, leaving only 20 to 25 law firms catering to clients who are willing to spend without regard to budgetary concerns. The story illustrates its point about “the escalating plight” of large law firms with a focus on how economic changes affected one firm in particular, Chicago’s Mayer Brown.

The American Lawyer takes issue with the conclusion. Though BigLaw has plenty of problems, including unfunded pensions and overcapacity, it remains viable, according to its editor’s take on the issue. “Make no mistake, the giant law firms in this country are alive, well, and rich,” the publication says.

In another critique, Slate accuses the New Republic of using “narrative tricks” to hype its story. According to Slate, the New Republic story ignores BigLaw business history and the fact that articles have been forecasting the death of BigLaw for decades. “Unfortunately, ‘Big Law Still Really, Really Dying,’ while arguable (except where it’s still really, really profitable), doesn’t sell copy,” Slate says.

The story would have been more relevant, Slate says, if it had chronicled “the gradual but remarkable expansion of [law firms] at the top of the pyramid, redefining large again and again, to the point that today’s 2,000-lawyer, multibillion-dollar-grossing machines are quadruple the size of the largest firms of just a couple of decades ago. Accompanying that growth is a constant, looming tension: to grow through acquisition or organically, by merging and hiring talent with ‘books of business’ or by recruiting and training talent in a long-range game of forecasting demand several years down the road.”

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