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It’s never been like this. In the three decades that The National Law Journal has been counting lawyers at big law firms, headcount has nearly always grown. In fact, the two times it has dropped, the decline was 1% or less. This year, headcount dived by nearly 4% — or, as Associate Editor Leigh Jones notes in her overview on this year’s results, enough to fill a couple of huge law firms.

Actually, the numbers are even more stark. For 20 years, the average annual growth rate for the NLJ 250 has been close to 4%. So this year’s decline, when coupled with the usual growth rate, is more like 8%. In rough terms, that’s 10,000 lawyers. All year, we’ve heard how different in scope this recession has been. And this year’s NLJ 250 shows exactly how tough the legal business has become.

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