Update (June 5, 2013): Hammerand, again (see below) with the news of a new big dog in town, the Philadelphia-based law firm of Cozen & O’Connor. The 8 lawyers setting up shop for C&O/Minneapolis defected from another Minneapolis satellite office of another out-of-town big dog: Chicago-based Hinshaw & Culbertson. This is evidence, I would suggest, of the view, stated below, that the money for work that there is in the Twin Cities legal market is increasingly finding its way to other law firms located in far off places rather than representing more work or more money for Minnesota lawyers as a whole. Can we assume that the defecting lawyers believe they are going to fare better under the new taskmasters but that any marginal increase in their revenue will presumably shrink away from the Twin Cities lawyers remaining in their old shop?
Update (January 30, 2013): Minneapolis St. Paul Biz Journal legal writer Jim Hammerand had a front page story of the Twin Cities’ frothy legal market, new firms coming into town, and lawyers shuffling around (subscription required for access). Hot diggetty! Good news at last? Maybe not. When non-Minnesota-based firms like Baker Daniels, Barnes & Thornburg, Hogan Lovells, Fulbright & Jaworski, DLA Piper, Stoel Rives, Dykema Gossett, ad infinitem come into town, plucking a partner or two or three or more and maybe some associates and support staff (or all of the entire office) from established Minnesota firms, do you really think that means more legal work for Minnesota legal community? Or does it just mean that the money for work that there is finding its way to other firms based in far off places? Check out this linked document about the federal case load in Minnesota. We have lots of lawyers (attracted here, undoubtedly, by the weather and the generous statutes of limitation) and, for several years now, we seem to have a steadily shrinking numbers of cases. So, congratulations and welcome to all of you national and international law firms coming to town and best of luck! We are all going to need a lot of it, I think.
Original Post (September 25, 2012): From time to time, Minnesota Litigator has covered the sad topic of legal employment (an oxymoron for too many lawyers in recent years), but was surprised to note that no previous Minnesota Litigator posts appear to have used graphic and over-the-top metaphors of “carnage” or “bloodbath” in connection with the legal market in Minnesota and throughout the country. Perhaps this was due to some self-restraint in recognition of the fact that we are actually spared such terrible horrors when some people are not so lucky.
On the other hand, the temptation to characterize what has been happening in the market for legal services over the past five years or so (and will be happening for several more) in the United States in such graphic terms is overwhelming. The upheaval and contraction is and will continue to be dramatic.
The unfortunate case of Kim Chapman v. Bonner & Borhart LLP is an example. In a nutshell, Chapman is a former lawyer of this small Twin Cities law firm that appears to have fallen on challenging times and, according to counsel for Chapman, Patrick Burns & Associates, the law firm defendant allegedly walked away from its obligations from paying its employees. One might assume that, if the allegations are accurate, the firm simply did not have the money and could not make payroll.
The roiling cycle of life (e.g., Mansfield & Tanick’s loss is Hellmuth & Johnson’s gain), is a constant in any market. On the other hand, when there is significant social, political, or technological upheaval, the tide can go out and never come back in.
Lawyers will not be going the way of scribes or buggy whip factories any time soon. On the other hand, huge leaps in technological advances have done away with hundreds of thousands of billable hours and, with them, the jobs that depended on them. And they will not be coming back ever.
Post-Script: By coincidence, today’s New York Times has a special section dedicated to “Big Law,” with articles by Andrew Ross Sorkin, James B. Stewart, Peter Lattman and other NYT luminaries. The upshot’s the same. We are not in Kansas anymore.
Seth Leventhal is a Twin Cities civil litigator who once practiced civil litigation at the largest law firm in Minnesota but who now, leveraging the latest technology, operates a lean solo practice, conferring a huge savings to Minnesota businesses and individuals in numerous complex business disputes.