🤷‍♀️ Actually, 2020 was as bad as the Great Recession for Big Law

After the initial economic shocks of the pandemic last March and April, most of the news in the legal industry was fairly positive. Layoffs tapered off, and legal jobs were outpacing job additions at large by the end of the year. 

But when you take a closer look, according to a new Thomson Reuters study, the data shows that Big Law got hit as hard as it did after the financial crisis in 2008. Here are some of the most interesting findings:  

  • Big Law firms employed about 1.6% fewer attorneys by the end of 2020 as they did in 2019. That was about the same drop as between 2008 and 2009.

  • Most of the cuts involved associates. They lost their jobs because of the drop in business for firms, as well as an increase of clients choosing to go with more experienced lawyers in the midst of the pandemic 

  • The lawyers who were still employed had to work more. Billing rates and productivity actually went up 1.4% despite the staff reductions. They also got paid more: With associates and other expenses being cut, a Thomson Reuters metric that essentially measures profitability among big firms hit a level in Q4 2020 that was the highest it had been since 2006.