Just as with the global financial crisis from a decade ago, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic will have two effects on law firm demand: a near-in contraction in response to slowed economic activity and a longer-term structural shift away from traditional outside counsel. The former will precipitate a Q1 to Q2 2020 drop in hours of 10 to 15 percent; the latter will delay Big Law regaining its pre-COVID level of demand until 2026; Mid Law may never fully recover. Partners who believe the requisite response to the ongoing recession is simply to ride it out should reevaluate: a new view of what it means to be a partner at an elite firm is required.

Near-in drop in demand

Let’s start with a review of what happened to law firm demand at the onset of the global financial crisis. Figure 1 shows quarterly total hours for firms of two different sizes. The data are from Thomson Reuters Peer Monitor. The Big Law numbers are an average of a consistently-defined group of 33 Am Law 100 firms; the Mid Law numbers are for a consistent group of 34 Am Law Second Hundred and mid-sized firms. The level of broad economic activity is indicated by quarterly GDP.

demand during the great recession

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