BigLaw Partner Cuts Aren't Over, Survey Finds

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There’s bad news for both partners and would-be associates in a new survey of leaders from the nation’s 200 largest law firms.

Nearly 70 percent of the 124 respondents said their firms plan to ask partners to leave in 2011, and 31 percent told of plans to de-equitize partners, the American Lawyer reports. Associate classes are shrinking too. More than 87 percent said the number of first-year associates hired next year will be the same or fewer than 2010’s small associate classes.

New associates may have a later starting date as well. According to the story, the idea of a January date is gaining ground. “When associates start in January, there are no year-end pressures to contend with,” explains Bingham McCutchen chairman Jay Zimmerman. “Firms can pay more attention to training associates in January than they can in September.”

Many firms are apparently making up for reduced associate numbers by shifting work to temporary lawyers. The survey found that 55 percent of the respondents had used contract lawyers, compared to 44 percent a year ago.

Other results of the American Lawyer survey include:

• Sixty percent of the respondents say the economic downturn has produced a fundamental shift in the legal marketplace, while 32 percent say the downturn has spurred adjustments in their firm’s business model.

• More firms are trying alternative fees. Ninety-one percent said their firms had used flat fees for entire matters, up from 82 percent last year; 90 percent said their firms had used incentive or success fees, up from 75 percent the prior year; and 73 percent said their firm had done contingency work, the same percentage as last year.

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