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As a looming recession approaches, a look at history, plus some judgment, can tell us a lot about how organizations will manage their lawyer numbers once it arrives. It’s a clear, disturbing and instructive tale.

Let’s start with some history. In studying the trends in U.S. lawyer head count over the last 20 years, both in-house and at major law firms, one thing jumps out: the stark difference before and after the 2008 recession. Before 2008, all segments were growing; after 2008, in-house lawyer growth accelerated while growth in law firms ground to a halt.

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