A Positive 3rd Quarter Report for Law Firms

It’s been awhile since we’ve posted.  Among the reasons we’ve been silent is that the financial picture for law firms generally had not seemed to change all that drastically over the last several months.  It’s been largely flat for quite awhile.

However, we recently came across some modestly positive news and thought we’d share it.  It’s from the latest Citigroup quarterly report and comes to us via the American Lawyer’s AmLaw Daily.

According to Citigroup, the first nine months of 2014 have been good financially for the law firm market.  However, the news has not been equally good for each segment within that market.  The largest and most international firms (particularly those with strong transactional practices) have fared the best.

Demand for legal services was up 1.6%.  At the same time, firms kept a tight control on their headcount, which increased by only .6%.  That means, of course, productivity is up.  Revenue was up 4.8% at the largest firms (the AmLaw 1-50), but only 3% for AmLaw 51-100 firms and only 1.5% for smaller firms.

Looking at profitability and the segmentation within the industry becomes more apparent.  74% of AmLaw 1-50 firms saw profits per equity partner (PPEP) increase whereas only 59% of AmLaw 51-200 equity partners saw an increase in their profits.  51% of smaller firms saw a PPEP decline.

Citigroup projects that when the data for the entire year is in, the story for 2014 will be “mid-single digit growth for the industry as a whole . . . [with] AmLaw 1-50 firms . . . significantly outperform[ing] the other industry segments.”

Details about how Citigroup gathers its data are contained in the American Lawyer article.

2013 Shaping Up To Be Not-So-Great Year for BigLaw

Patrick Lamb, writing for the ABA Journal’s the “New Normal” series, parses three recent law firm financial reports that came out this week.  He concludes:  “Clients paid for fewer hours and spent less overall during the first 9 months of 2013 than they did in 2012, which was a down year itself.”   

You should read the whole piece (entitled “Latest data reveals growing problems for OldLaw”), which you can find here.




BigLaw Firm Leaders Less Optimistic This Quarter

At least that’s what a recent poll from Citi Private Bank’s Law Firm Group suggests.

Interviewed by the American Lawyer, Group CEO Dan DiPietro says that the results reflect “a growing understanding that what the environment was the last couple years will probably be the environment we’re stuck with for the foreseeable future.”

The bank surveyed 72 firms (27 Am Law 100 firms, 21 in The Second Hundred, 22 boutiques , and 2 UK firms.  

More Litigation Work Expected for Biglaw in 2014

Via the blog of legal business consulting firm Hildebrandt comes this report that most in-house counsel are expecting litigation work to double in 2014.

The source is BTI Consulting Group’s Litigation Outlook 2014.

The bad news, as Hildebrandt puts it, is that: “thanks to cost-containment measures such as early case assessment (ECA), alternative fee arrangements and a larger focus on settlements (the resolution rate is expected to hit 40 percent), the study stated that spending will increase a ‘mere tenth of a percent.'”

On the bright side (for firms, at least) in-house lawyers are expecting spending to increase more on IP litigation (2.7%).


Private Sector Legal Market Remains Flat

We regularly post information about reports on the financial condition of the legal market.  The latest comes from Citi Private Bank and is reported in the Am Law Daily.  It deals with results from the first half of 2013 and the news is not great. 

There was a bit of revenue growth during this period (0.5 percent), however growth in expenses exceeded that.  Moreover, the growth is not attributable to any increase in a demand for legal services (which declined 1.3 percent).  Rather it’s due to an increase in rates (3.7 percent).    

Head count also grew during this period (0.4 percent in Q 2 and 0.5 percent in Q 1).  Based on their survey of information from 172 firms, Citi predicts that 2013 will be a flat year.  The 172 firms consisted of 81 Am Law 100 firms, 45 Second Hundred firms, and 46 additional firms.

On the Art of Networking

Couple of interesting nuggests in this posting on the Lawyerist entitled “The Secrets of Mingling At Legal Events.”

For Many CA Firms, 2012 Turned Out Better Than Expected Financially

A recent article in the Recorder, SF’s legal newspaper, reports on CA firm financials for 2012.  While revenue gains were modest, many firms noticeably increased their profits.  The article attributes the increase partly to expense cutting, but mainly to reduced headcount, particularly among firm partnership ranks.  The increases experienced by firms whose biggest offices are in Silicon Valley were the result of increased demand for their tech expertise, rather than trimming ranks.  In fact, some Silicon Valley firms actually increased headcount.   

There are several interesting insights into big law firm business operations that will be useful to those of you heading to large firms (or considering interviewing with them in the fall).

Looking Back: Law Firms Experienced Only Modest Growth in 2012; Looking Ahead: More of the Same

Thomson Reuters Peer Monitor — in conjunction with Georgetown University Law Center’s Center on the Study of the Legal Profession — recently issued its annual report on the legal market, which you can find here.    Some highlights of 2012:

  • growth in demand for legal services up by a mere .5%
  • the number of lawyers increased by 2% (which put growth in productivity, i.e., number of hours a firm bills divided by number of lawyers, in negative territory) 
  • profits per partner grew modestly at 3.58% (partners at non-AmLaw 100 firms fared better than those from AmLaw 100)
  • it was a banner year for global expansion of U.S. and international law firms (96 cross border law firm mergers took place)

The report analyzes some of the longer term trends behind these numbers.  It’s a must-read.

As for 2013, the authors of the report predict “that most firms will continue to struggle to maintain profitability as the combined effects of slow demand growth, declining realization rates, and persistent overcapacity will continue to eat into profit margins. We do expect to see some growth in revenues and continued rigorous efforts to manage expenses, but overall we anticipate that there will be only modest growth in profits per equity partner in the current year – probably in the low single digit range.”

Geographic Regions With Fastest Growing Professional, Scientific and Technical Services Sectors

Urban Studies expert Joel Kotkin discusses a list of the metropolitan areas with the fastest growth rates for high-wage sectors in : The Cities Winning The Battle For The Fastest Growing High-Wage Sector In The U.S.  He notes Chicago’s absence from the top 10 as well as “the big metropolitan areas of the Northeast and California that have traditionally dominated high-end business services. The only exception is the third-ranked San Francisco-Oakland-Fremont metropolitan statistical area. . . . Yet the other leaders on our list are generally smaller, growing metro areas whose expansions have been propelled by a rapid increase in employment in technology and professional management services. These include our top-ranked metro area, Austin-Round Rock-San Marcos, Texas, which enjoyed over 46% growth in employment in professional services since 2001; fourth-place Raleigh-Durham, N.C.; and No. 5 Salt Lake City, Utah. These areas have enjoyed strong net-in migration of educated workers, and have poached companies from more expensive regions. More surprising still has been the rapid ascent of such unheralded regions as second-place Jacksonville, Fla., and Oklahoma City (sixth place).”

3rd Quarter 2012 Update on the Large Law Firm Market

Those of you who follow our blog, know that we regularly share with you the results of law business consultant Hildebrandt’s quarterly reports on the state of the large law firm market.  Their report for the third quarter of 2012 (ending September 30th) is now out.

Like the last report (for Q 2), it’s not positive.

Key findings:

  • overall demand for legal services dropped by 0.8%
  • demand was down in every practice area with the exception of labor and employment, which was up by 2.5%
  • IP litigation, which was a practice area that had performed relatively strongly in the recent past, was down by 3.6% in Q3.
  • mid-sized firms performed relatively better than the largest firms
  • demand in NY was up 4%, but down in LA, Silicon Valley, DC, and Chicago  
  • attorney headcount continued to grow, but the growth rate slowed
  • the attorney replenishment ratio remained at 1.3 (about where it’s been for the rest of 2012)
  • productivity (the measure of the ratio between capacity and demand) fell 2.5% (the third consecutive quarterly decline)   

 Bottom line is that Hildebrandt finds no reason to alter the prediction contained in its Q2 report that the large firm legal market will continue its “sluggish, largely flat trajectory” [Hildebrandt’s language] for the foreseeable future.