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Credit: Daniel Liévano

The COVID-19 recession of 2020 marks the eighth economic downturn since 1969. Six of these eight recessions were V-shaped—the duration of recovery roughly mirrored the duration of decline, each phase lasting about a year.

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In 2008, the global financial crisis broke this four-decade streak. Officially, the Great Recession lasted 19 months, followed by a prolonged, U-shaped recovery in which pre-recession GDP and employment levels remained elusive until 2014. The lengthy post-GFC recovery period structurally reshaped competitive dynamics for legal markets as unprecedented ­levels of budget scrutiny on corporate law departments triggered a perfect storm of economic pressures for Big Law. Buy-side efforts to reimagine the legal supply chain gave rise to widespread insourcing, near-shoring and offshoring, dampening demand for outside counsel while dialing up client expectations for service quality and competitive pricing.

The resulting impact on law firms has been dramatic. Of the 2008 Am Law 100, four have since dissolved and 17 are now operating under new shingles. Meanwhile, the best-performing firms have pulled further and further away from the pack.

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