Law Practice Management
Morgan Lewis Chair is ‘Very Confident & Positive About the Future’
Posted Mar 10, 2009 8:06 PM CDT
By Martha Neil
Despite dire predictions for the traditional BigLaw model by some observers, stunning layoffs now under way at many major firms responding to dismal economic conditions are a good sign as far as their ongoing health is concerned, according to the chairman of one of them.
"We're very confident and positive about the future," says Francis Milone, the chairman of Morgan Lewis & Bockius, in an interview today with the ABA Journal. As clients get bigger and seek legal advice about more complex issues, "I don't believe that large law firms are going to be disadvantaged," he says. "I think we're going to be in a strong position, frankly, going forward."
Yesterday, the firm made its biggest layoff ever, letting 216 people go, including 55 lawyers and 161 staff in its U.S. offices. It now has 1,451 attorneys.
Morgan Lewis also delayed the start date until October 2010 for the incoming class of new associates that ordinarily would have begun work there this fall. And, according to the firm's hiring partner, it is likely to delay the start date as well for new associates in the next first-year class the following year, reports the Philadelphia Inquirer.
The difficult move, though, should now put the firm in a good position for future success, Milone says. The firm has trimmed its roster to match expected work flow—some practice areas, including labor and employment, energy and litigation are booming, but others, such as securitization, are not—with an eye toward not only its immediate needs but the longer term. Securitization, for instance, will eventually rebound, he says, "but I don't think anybody believes it will ever come back the way it was before."
Morgan Lewis had hoped to avoid layoffs. However, after monitoring the global economy and the firm's own performance closely for several months, starting in December, department heads and other key partners decided there was no alternative except to reduce the Morgan Lewis roster. By doing so, however, "long-term, we ... position ourselves in the best possible place for servicing our clients and being successful," Milone said.
As discussed in earlier ABAJournal.com posts, some observers predict that law firms will have to adjust to a brave new world in which "commoditization" of legal services will constrict—but not eliminate—the market for expensive specialists.
But "I don't thing the business model is going to change," Milone said of BigLaw practice. "I think the clent expectations are going to change—and they have been changing for several years now." Among other differences, corporate clients are more focused on value and costs today, he says, and "our big challenge" is delivering legal services "in the way that clients want them delivered."
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ABAJournal.com: "BigLaw Managing Partner Predicts the Future; Cost Control is Key"
ABAJournal.com: "Paul Hastings Axes 44 Associates, 87 Staff; Chadbourne Cuts 25 Lawyers"