It could have been worse. That’s the best that can be said for the performance last year of The Am Law 100, the top-grossing law firms in the nation. Three of the four key categories we’ve measured for 25 years — gross revenue, head count and revenue per lawyer — fell, while profits per equity partner (PPP) barely increased by 0.3 percent, or $3,463, to $1.26 million.

But on average, even the bad results weren’t nearly as dire as many firms had feared just a year ago. Overall, gross revenue was off by 3.4 percent, and head count dropped by about 1 percent. The firms earned a total of $64.8 billion, down roughly $2.3 billion. And, in the first year-over-year reduction in head count since 1993, they cut their lawyer labor force by 1,219, to 80,772. For all the heated attention to layoffs, about half the firms actually increased their size last year. RPL, which we regard as the most telling economic indicator, was down $15,697, to $802,381, a 2 percent fall. This was the second consecutive year in which RPL fell, another sign of the toll of the weak economy.

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