When managing partners of law firms large and small gathered in the same room last week at Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler, the inevitable question arose: Will business get any better?

A straw poll conducted at the meeting revealed “guarded optimism,” according to a New York State Bar Association task force. Of the 21 law firm leaders who participated in the survey, only two said they expected legal business would decrease in 2011, with the rest predicting flat to modest growth. More than half expected to hire the same or slightly more first-year associates than they did in 2010.

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