17,500 BigLaw Jobs Are at Risk Due to Cost Pressures, Consultant Says

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As many as 17,500 associate and staff attorney jobs could be lost or shifted as a result of staffing changes driven by pressures for lower costs, a law firm consultant says.

Writing for the blog of law firm consultant Hildebrandt, Lisa Smith makes an argument 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.

“It is not surprising that some firms are reducing summer programs and first-year classes,” she writes. “Is that going to be enough?”

There are about 65,000 nonpartner lawyers at the nation’s top 200 law firms, most of them partner-track associates, Smith says. She goes on to offer these possible numbers:

• If there is a 10 percent improvement in efficiency, 6,500 nonpartner jobs could be lost.

• For sake of argument, say there are 1,000 outsourced lawyers. (Smith says the number is admittedly low.) If the number increases by 5,000, the same number of nonpartner jobs will be shifted.

• Again, for the sake of argument, say there are currently 3,000 BigLaw staff attorneys (again, the number is low). If the number triples, 6,000 partner-track associate jobs will be shifted.

The total: 17,500 jobs, which is nearly 27 percent of the total nonpartner jobs in BigLaw.

Updated coverage: “17,500 BigLaw Jobs at Risk? Consultant Denies ‘Evil Plot’ by MPs”

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