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Midsize Midwestern Firms Outside of Big Cities Doing Relatively Well

Posted Apr 27, 2009 12:39 PM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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Midsize Midwestern law firms outside of major urban areas are doing better than their larger counterparts, where layoffs are common and associate start dates are being pushed back.

Midwestern firms with between 100 and 450 lawyers haven’t relied as much on work stemming from capital markets and mergers and acquisitions. As a result, they are more insulated from the downturn, the National Law Journal reports. Two other factors helping these firms are lower costs and a more conservative approach to expenses.

David Van Zandt, dean of Northwestern law school, tells the NLJ that for each of the past several years, large law firms hired associate classes that were 10 percent larger. Midsize Midwestern firms didn’t increase associate hiring that much, in contrast to big firms that “weren’t planning well.”

Two Indiana firms that have avoided layoffs are Barnes & Thornburg and Ice Miller, both based in Indiana. Barnes & Thornburg is expanding, opening new offices in Atlanta and Columbus, Ohio. It will hire 12 new associates in the fall, down from 15 last year. Ice Miller is hiring eight associates, down slightly from last year.

Byron Myers, the chief managing partner at Ice Miller, told the National Law Journal that the firm "carries no debt."

"We haven't [laid off lawyers] because we don't need to," Myers told the legal newspaper. "The business climate is a bit different here than New York, Los Angeles and Chicago."

Meanwhile, midsize in firms in Michigan have been boosted by new practice areas, the story says. For example, Clark Hill has created a practice to help investors from India looking for real estate investments in the Detroit area. Varnum, Riddering, Schmidt & Howlett has added a wind energy practice, and Kitch Drutchas Wagner Valitutti & Sherbrook now represents medical providers in birth trauma cases.

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