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Recession Comes to Biglaw. But What about Littlelaw?

Posted By Cliff Tuttle | December 2, 2008

Posted by Cliff Tuttle

So, its official. We have a recession. Or more correctly, we’ve had a recession for a year and didn’t know it. Was your first thought upon hearing this news like mine? “Oh good, if its a year old maybe it will be over in the Spring.” That’s a true optimist!

National Law Blogs, called blawgs by some, have been reporting layoffs at big law firms for some time. There was one about Reed Smith not too long ago and another about Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney, too. Actually, if you look around the net, you can find a report of layoffs at a large law firm just about any day of the week. Firms employ a variety of strategies and the youngest associates have not always proven to be the most vulnerable. I could spread a few links here or here, but frankly, layoff stories are pretty much the same and are starting to become very boring.

Any law school grad who has done job hunting in Pittsburgh will tell you that this has not been a boomtown for lawyers for a very long time. When the baby boomers started to hit law school in the sixties, class sizes exploded and the two resident law schools have ever after been pouring out more lawyers than the Pittsburgh economy can comfortably absorb. For four decades, the market for law grads in Pittsburgh has varied from mild recession at the top to deep depression at the bottom. Yet, somehow, most of us seem to find a niche and many grow and prosper.

The scoop on law jobs in recent years, big and small but mostly big, has been a national on line subscription service called Law Crossing. This outfit is very aggressive. They not only read every publication where an ad to hire a lawyer might appear, but they telephone the personnel departments of biglaw firms and corporations with a sizable legal staff daily. About a year and a half ago, readers of Law Crossing started to notice that the Pittsburgh listings were drying up. The good, interesting ones went away first. Then the mid-sized firms vanished. Soon, on most days there were only perennials, the kind that never leave because that firm is always interested in collecting more resumes. Two years ago, 20 or more Pittsburgh listings might appear on a good day. A good day in 2008? Two.

Yes, recessions are bad news for biglaw and the lawyers that work there. But are they bad for everybody? Not necessarily.

There are always opportunities developing, even during a recession. Even during, God protect us, a depression. Change is accelerating at this very moment. That means something new is making an appearance.

For example, a lot of people are losing homes who shouldn’t be. In the past, they would make deals with easily accessible community bankers and get back on the wagon. Now they have mortgages with national lenders who are not set up to fix what went wrong. Until very lately, too many of these cases ended up with sheriff sales that didn’t have to be. But the tide is turning. Moratoria are being declared around the Country (Florida did it today) to facilitate conciliation between lenders and borrowers. And how are these borrowers going to make deals and rescue their homes? They need lawyers, affordable ones.

As Carolyn Elefant said about this very type of opportunity, this is a chance to do good and do well. If you are a refugee from biglaw, wondering where to go next, read Carolyn’s excellent blog, My Shingle. You can find it in our blog roll on the right sidebar or you can click here.

There are other types of law practice that typically do well in a recession: landlord-tenant, bankruptcy, personal injury and domestic relations come to mind. This is not simply because they are unaffected by an economic downturn (Carolyn points out that sometimes they are), but because bad times may actually increase the demand for such services. And who is in a position to serve this need? Not biglaw.



CLIFF TUTTLE has been a Pennsylvania lawyer for over 45 years and (inter alia) is a real estate litigator and legal writer. The posts in this blog are intended to provide general information about legal topics of interest to lawyers and consumers with a Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania focus. However, this information does not constitute legal advice and there is no lawyer-client relationship created when you read this blog. You are encouraged to leave comments but be aware that posted comments can be read by others. If you wish to contact me in privacy, please use the Contact Form located immediately below this message. I will reply promptly and in strict confidence.

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