• May 23, 2016

Pendleton_Sinking_ShipI have been repeatedly documenting and lamenting the horrible prospects for U.S. lawyers in recent years (here and here, for example).

Altman Weil, Inc. is a Pennsylvania-based legal consultant. Law360 is an on-line legal industry publication, which disseminated the results of an Altman Weil survey this past week in an article by Melissa Maleske.

In a nutshell, there is no sign of recovery on the horizon for the U.S. civil litigation industry . The Altman Weil report suggests that, in large law firms, associates are working the most, then equity partners, and, lagging behind, non-equity partners. In many ways, this makes sense. Associates have the lowest billing rates. They also have the most to learn. Equity partners take home most of the money; they should have to work for it. Non-equity partners dwell in purgatory. They do not have the appeal of the associates lower billing rates. Also, they get work done more quickly and efficiently than associates because they have much more experience. It’s actually difficult for these lawyers to spend a week on a deposition outline whereas an associate could flounder around on such a project for a fortnight or longer. And, finally, equity partners have incentive to work associates like dogs and disincentive to give work to non-equity partners. Equity partners know that the non-equity partners hope to get their own piece of the equity pie, and that can be a zero-sum transaction.

60% of the law firms surveyed by Altman Weil, Inc. reported over-capacity.

“Despite overcapacity, 51 percent of firms said headcount of nonequity partners increased last year,” the Law360 article continues.

In other words, ships are sinking, and as they sink, many are hiring more crew members and taking on more ballast?

The Law360 article reports that one survey respondent commented, “Growth is necessary, if business and revenue are to expand.” I believe this is the same thing as saying, “Growth is necessary, if there is going to be growth,” and this kind of reasoning reminds us that law schools do not teach lawyers to run businesses…


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