Aw, Jeez. We’ll admit it: we got a little excited earlier today when we read the news about Brown Rudnick rescinding its deferral offer. Could it be, we mused, that this was the faintest glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel? The lighthouse in the fog? The distant finish line at the end of a long, brutal march up a body-strewn mountain? We actually ran to Times Square to see if any lawyers had taken to the streets and begun making out, V-J Day style.

But nope. No smooching lawyers. Just some sweaty tourists asking us the location of the nearest Sbarro. And now we know why: Things might be getting marginally better in BigLaw, but the turnaround ain’t going to be swift. It, like the economy at large, is going to take a long long time.

The news on this comes from Hildebrandt, a consultancy to law firms, via a story from the National Law Journal. Hildebrandt tracked demand for legal services, attorney productivity, billing rates and direct and overhead expenses at large and midsize law firms during the second quarter of 2009. The index, which has been on decline since early last year, but it ticked up slightly last quarter — an indication that the economic situation for law firms may be bottoming out.

We called up Blane Prescott at Hildebrandt to get to the bottom of what’s going on.

Hey Blane. So what’s going on? No reason for celebration yet, eh?

Well, the downward slide has started to slow down. But remember, a recession implies negative growth. That might be over, but it’s not like things are booming. I’d prepare for a long period of very slow growth.

Okay. Any exceptions to that?

There is. It’s commercial real estate. We get the sense that the worst might be yet to come in commercial real estate. We’re coming off a period of rapid growth, rapid construction, and a real expansion in refinancings. Owners who expected to get $70 to $100 a square foot in are getting $30 to $40. It’s still very much a buyer’s market.

What about these countercyclical practices like bankruptcy? It hasn’t raised all boats, has it?

No. Bankruptcy is very lucrative for those firms that do it well, but it’s still a specialized practice. We’re seeing some places in which litigation is picking up, but for others, it really continues to be very slow.

And layoffs? Above the Law reported some layoffs at Curtis Mallet, but other than that, the flood seems to have slowed to a trickle. Anything to report on that?

The layoffs are slowing. We had two big waves — some firms had three — but I really don’t think we’re going to see another one.

Scroll to Top