The nation’s largest 250 law firms grew by 4 percent in 2006, a figure that was just shy of last year’s gains but still reflected a sound legal economy.
The results of the 2006 NLJ 250, The National Law Journal’s 29th annual survey of the nation’s largest law firms, revealed that 121,423 attorneys worked at those firms this year, some 4,752 more attorneys than last year.
In 2005, the top 250 law firms had 116,671 attorneys, which represented a 4.4 percent increase from 2004, when firms grew by 1.5 percent. In 2003, firms expanded by 1.6 percent.
The increase in the number of attorneys at the top 250 firms indicates that firms continue to boost their ranks to meet the demands created by a strong business economy.
The survey measured attorney populations at the nation’s largest firms between Oct. 1, 2005, and Sept. 30, 2006. This year, the cutoff point for law firms to make the NLJ 250 was 172 attorneys. In 2005, the smallest firm on the list had 165 attorneys.
Partner totals showed solid growth this year, climbing by 5.1 percent compared with last year. Law firms reported that they had 48,954 partners, as opposed to 46,563 last year, when the number of partners rose sharply by 4.6 percent.
At the same time, the average number of attorneys designated as nonequity partners this year surged by a resounding 16 percent. This year, the average number of nonequity partners at firms identifying attorneys in that category was 51, compared with 44 attorneys last year.
Also showing a gain was the number of associates, which rose by 4.8 percent. This year, firms reported 61,648 junior attorneys, compared with 58,805 last year, when the number of associates rose by 4.6 percent.
The average number of lawyers identified in the “other” category, meaning that they were nonpartner and nonassociate attorneys, rose by 2 percent. This year, the average number of “other” attorneys was 43; last year, it was 42.