Thursday, December 6, 2012
In contrast to a survey released earlier this week in which leaders from a small but select group of BigLaw firms expressed hesitance about the year ahead, The American Lawyer's own survey of the top 200 firms finds the majority of leaders saying they are "somewhat" to "very optimistic" about 2013. But, as you'll see below, that optimism doesn't necessarily translate into a hiring spree as firms continue to embrace "alternative staffing models" in response to intense pressure from clients to contain costs.
Despite uncertainty all around them, law firm leaders are optimistic about 2013, our annual survey shows.
Leaders of the country's highest-grossing law firms are ready to put the recession behind them and embrace a cheerful narrative—if only the world economy will play along. In The American Lawyer 's 10th annual Law Firm Leaders survey, 75 percent of the 113 participating Am Law 200 managing partners and chairs described themselves as either somewhat or very optimistic with respect to their firms, a slight increase over 73 percent a year ago.
But financial instability in Europe, political and regulatory uncertainty in the United States, and the collapse of debt-laden remind them that the world can be a dangerous place. Seventy-one percent of respondents said they expect the economic recovery in the U.S. to either continue at its current plodding pace or slow down. (Only 29 percent predicted that the recovery would pick up next year.)
"My sense is that a boom wants to happen, which makes me optimistic," says chair Joseph Leccese. "But there are all these macro-level economic issues that are making clients hesitant, and that makes me pessimistic." Leccese was one of 11 managing partners who were interviewed about the results of the survey, which was conducted from mid-August to mid-October on a confidential basis.
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The results of this year's survey depict an industry that has moved on from the recession—one that has abandoned the large-scale cost cuts and personnel reductions that became commonplace in 2009 and 2010. But in the absence of a clear upswing in the overall economy (and subsequent increase in demand for high-end legal services), leaders of Am Law 200 firms have sought to maintain profitability increases by relying on small-scale tactics, such as capital calls, deequitizations, and increased use of alternative staffing models. "Demand continues to be challenged as business's appetite for new investments, expansions, and acquisitions remains constrained," says Jeffrey Stone, cochair of. We, like other firms, are trying to find that sweet spot of practice mixes, pricing, staffing levels, and fiscal stability." Stone highlighted his firm's increased use of alternative staffing arrangements that include nonpartnership-track attorneys.
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