Big law, medium law and small law are all abuzz about the New Republic article on The Last Days of Big Law by senior editor Noam Scheiber. It’s a lengthy look into how Big Law partners and associates have evolved into skilled carnivores whose rise to the top depends on the number of bodies they can pile up to break through to equity partner status. 

Or, as the article illustrates: 

As demeaning as life can be for a partner these days, it’s altogether soul-crushing for an associate…One Mayer Brown partner named Mike Mascia was sufficiently scarred by the struggles he endured as a younger lawyer that he has since become famous around the New York office for his advice to junior colleagues. Your best hope at landing clients, Mascia says, is to attach yourself to an aging partner and “steal his clients when he retires.”

So why would any sensible human being want to be at Big Law? The “generous salary, the esteem of one’s neighbors, work that was more intellectual than purely commercial” is yesterday’s business model. 

Today’s business model?

“Stable” is not the way anyone would describe a legal career today. In the past decade, twelve major firms with more than 1,000 partners between them have collapsed entirely.

There are currently between 150 and 250 firms in the United States that can claim membership in the club known as Big Law, the group of historically profitable firms that cater to the country’s largest corporations. The overwhelming majority of these still operate according to a business model that assumes, at least implicitly, that clients will insist upon the best legal talent instead of the best bargain for legal talent. That assumption has become rickety. Within the next decade or so, according to one common hypothesis, there will be at most 20 to 25 firms that can operate this way— the firms whose clients have so many billions of dollars riding on their legal work that they can truly spend without limit. The other 200 firms will have to reinvent themselves or disappear.

The Big Law paradigm has shifted and I’ve found that among our client group of solos and small firms, many who survived did so by taking their career fates into their own hands…the only safe place to be in law these days.

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