The Recorder Study Shows “Big Law” Profits Improving, Mirroring LawCrossing Employment Data

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According to a study by The Recorder, California’s biggest law firms showed a profit during 2012 during an otherwise bad year for the legal firm. Their success is an indicator of a recovering legal market, and law firms will continue to hire even more attorneys.

Though partners may be earning slightly less, a profitable firm is always in need of strong associates, paralegals, and administrators, and there are plenty of people around the country that would like to fill these positions.

At the end of 2012, many of California’s largest law firms reported an increase in profits, despite an overall downturn in the legal industry, according to a report issued by The Recorder. This increase in profits is reflected in LawCrossing.com’s internal hiring data.

2012 was something of a dismal year for most American law firms, as the momentum that started at the beginning of the year stalled during the spring and summer months. Despite a legal field that saw many lawyers struggle to find work or advance their careers, one type of law firm has actually increased their profits significantly since 2011. A study conducted by The Recorder analyzed profits earned by California’s larger, “Big” law firms like Munger, Tolles & Olson, Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe, Latham & Watkins, and Quinn Emmanuel Urquhart & Sullivan. It found that these types of firms were able to make significant gains over the last twelve months. The data reveals that for these and other large firms, profits have increased between 2-9% since 2011, an unusual feat in what is typically considered to be a sour legal market.

Industry commentators have speculated that California’s big firms are doing well at the moment due to the combination of two factors: the relatively strong market for legal services in California and significant restructuring at these larger firms. Two pillars of the California legal market are the entertainment industry and the technology industry, both of which are doing relatively well in the current unstable economic client. Additionally, many of the firms surveyed reported that they have restructured their offices to help facilitate the increased profits, with some partners earning less than they might otherwise in better financial times. There is the positive side to restructuring, as a law firm that is not earning a profit may choose instead to lay off employees and close branches.

The earnings of big California law firms have had a good impact on hiring in the California area. Though partners may be earning slightly less, a profitable firm is always in need of strong associates, paralegals, and administrators, and there are plenty of people around the country who would like to fill these positions. Lawcrossing.com, the most visited website for legal jobs in the country, currently lists 8,606 legal job openings in the state of California, many of which are for “Big Law” firms. For attorneys practicing in California, this means that there are plenty of opportunities for advancement and new areas of the legal field to explore. For attorneys practicing outside of California, this data could represent a great time to make both a lateral or geographical move to one of the America’s most beautiful states.

“Bigger law firms in California often show ability to weather an economic storm,” said Harrison Barnes, CEO of LawCrossing.com. “One small pocket of strong law firms can give lawyers an oasis in the desert of unemployment and help prop up law firms that are not doing as well around the country.”

The challenges facing the legal industry are significant, and unlikely to go away soon. But the legal market is cyclical, and a group of law firms showing profit is a good indicator that things will continue to improve across the board. As LawCrossing.com shows, even in a bad legal market, there are still thousands of firms looking to hire eager attorneys.

The details of job listings reported by LawCrossing across various practice areas and locations can be found here: http://www.lawcrossing.com/lcjssearchresults.php

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Andrew Ostler
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