In 2012, law firms in the United States saw growth, but they didn’t see much of it, according to the National Law Journal’s annual survey of the biggest law firms. The survey, known as the NLJ 350, analyzes data from the nation’s 350 largest law firms in an assessment of the overall legal market, and the most recent report shows that, in 2012, law firms did grow, but only incrementally.
Last year saw an overall growth in headcount of 1.1 percent in law firms tracked by the NLJ 350. While any growth is better than shrinkage, last year’s growth was lower than 2011, which saw law firms increase their hiring by 1.7 percent.
“The 1.1 percent uptick in the number of lawyers working in the nation’s largest 350 law firms was slower than the 1.7 percent employment growth from a year ago and is one of the smallest increases we’ve seen in nearly two decades,” said David L. Brown, editor in chief of The National Law Journal. “It’s clear that the U.S. legal services market has not yet fully recovered from the recession years of 2008-2010.”
In 2012, only 622 associates were hired by the 350 firms included on the list, which is staggering considering the number of new lawyers that graduated from law school in 2012. While not every law school graduate moves right over to a large law firm, the number of recent grads that join a big firm is considered a key metric for determining the viability of a law school and the success of their educational program. (It’s also a good way to pay back those student loans.)
The National Law Journal’s data also showed that, of the country’s 350 largest law firms, 140 of these firms actually decreased their size in 2012.
Law firms included in the NLJ 350 are ranked in order of staff size. Topping the rankings again this year with 4,036 lawyers was DLA Piper, followed by Baker & McKenzie (4,004) lawyers, Jones Day (2,363), Hogan Lovells (2,280), and Latham & Watkins (2,033).
The largest growth was seen at Ice Miller, which increased 37 percent to 301 lawyers; Butler, Snow, O’Mara, Stevens and Cannada (35 percent); and Fragomen, Del Rey, Bernsen & Loewy (32 percent.)