Editor's comment: Tough, less at the top
Law firms' worlds really did change in 2008-09. It was the worst 12 months for major firms since the early 1990s, and far worse than any in the preceding decade. Profitability, having avoided any substantive fall across the top 50 for more than 15 years, fell by 17.3%. And while there was slight revenue growth, without the strong euro and dollar in real terms fee income fell by around 2%. Dramatic indeed. For some observers, this must have heralded the humbling of the City leaders that so recently rode the markets to global glory. There would be a pleasing symmetry to that. But, unfortunately for journalists, the business world rarely behaves according to clear narratives. Large City law firms certainly took their knocks during 08-09, including job cuts on an unprecedented scale. But in cold, hard business terms it was anything but a bust for the magic circle which, with the exception of Clifford Chance, had a strong year. The newly-emerged breed of global law firm faced its first real stress test and, unlike its banking counterparts, passed with flying colours. Perhaps that is because it was generally a good year for the larger firms; firms just below the magic circle were solid performers for the second year in a row as once-dismissed practices like Lovells and Norton Rose hit a confident stride.
The bigger and better excel in an unforgiving market
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