In legal circles, Washington’s law firms don’t exactly enjoy a flashy reputation. Compared with the juiced-up M&A outfits in New York or the tech-savvy shops of Silicon Valley, D.C. firms are the sensible shoes of the legal world: reliable and not very stylish. But during the past decade there has been a distinct fashion upgrade.
D.C.’s firms have merged, built national practices, wooed global clients, gotten past the velvet rope in New York and opened offices all over the world. And, of course, competition from both in and out of town has grown much more fierce.
The transition to a more competitive environment has not been easy. Like any teenager with growing pains, D.C. firms have had to make awkward decisions: How much do we expand? In what areas? How do we balance firm culture with the need to compete for everything from talent to clients?
Some D.C. firms have navigated these crosscurrents with aplomb, but two old-line institutions — Arnold & Porter and Covington & Burling — seem to be having trouble adjusting to Washington’s new paradigm. Though both remain profitable and, by most accounts, are relatively happy places to work, both have also come face to face with the harsh realities of the modern legal market, where hustling for business and constant growth are seen as the price of continued survival.