From afar, Washington may look like the land of legal opportunity, what with the recent passage of financial and health care reform.

But even in D.C., firms have shed lawyers at a nearly unprecedented clip. According to the Legal Times 150, our annual ranking of the largest law offices in the nation’s capital, headcount for Washington-area firms declined by 4.5% last year, or 702 lawyers — the biggest drop that we’ve recorded in 25 years. In all, 93 of the 150 had fewer lawyers than in the previous year.

Slipping and Sliding
Why the sharp drop amid all of the regulatory activity? Firm leaders in the region say some of the blame lies with Congress and the Obama administration, which took their time passing and implementing regulation — thus making it less necessary for clients to bring on D.C. talent. The sour economy also forced firm leaders to think hard about bringing on first-year associates.

Declines in women, minorities at big D.C. firms
For years, firm leaders in Washington have struggled to increase diversity among their lawyer ranks — and with headcounts down across the region, the effort has only become more difficult, they say. “It has become more challenging to bring in women and minority attorneys,” said Claudette Christian, co-chairwoman of Hogan Lovells and the firm’s chief diversity officer.

The LT 150 in Snapshots
Sonnenschein slips, New York firms dip and a boutique firm soars.


Ranked by headcount, the 150 biggest players in the Washington legal market.

Gains and losses in headcount at D.C.-area law offices.

How homegrown and branch offices fared.

Marlyland Offices
Northern Virginia Offices

Women at Washington firms
• Minorities at Washington firms

Editor’s note: For more than 30 years, we’ve surveyed Washington-area law firms about their lawyer headcount. In the 2010 Legal Times 150, firms were asked to provide data for each office in the Washington metropolitan area — including the District of Columbia, Montgomery and Prince George’s counties in Maryland and Arlington and Fairfax counties and the cities of Alexandria and Falls Church in Virginia. The headcount numbers are as of April 1, 2010. They do not include contract attorneys, patent agents or summer associates. And firms were asked to tally full-time equivalents.

Purchase the Electronic 2010 Legal Times 150 Survey from ALM Legal Intelligence.