Two recent articles highlight two interesting and seemingly contradictory trends in the legal sector. On the one hand, a recent NALP report (as discussed in June Law.com article by Karen Sloan) shows that the employment rate for 2012 law grads fell by 1% relative to 2011, marking a fifth straight year that overall legal employment has fallen. This in the eyes of many is not a good sign, as the industry continues to feel the effects of the economic downturn of 2008.
However, the news is not all bad. Another recent article by Vivia Chen of The Careerist shows that big law hiring is actually up significantly. Says Chen, “law firms of 500 or more lawyers hired more than 3,600 members of the J.D. class of 2012—a 27% increase compared to the previous class.” Law schools such as Georgetown and University of Pennsylvania are both reporting “strong and steady” levels of hiring and on-campus interviewing, with Georgetown experiencing upwards of a 6% increase in graduates hired by big law firm.
There is also some additional silver lining to law grad job rates being down. According to Sloan, the actual number of jobs obtained by graduates has increased slightly this year. Similarly, median starting salaries have also increased. Accordingly, the overall take for law schools and entry-level law grads becomes somewhat in the eye of the beholder. This is seemingly good news for those with aspirations of joining big law firms, but seemingly bad news for those seeking positions at smaller to mid-size shops. With big law hiring up 27% but overall law grad jobs down 1%, smaller to mid-size legal hiring has clearly taken a large hit.
Norton Rose Fulbright is now official. The anticipated tie up between London-based Norton Rose and Texas-based Fulbright & Jaworski has gone live as of Monday, June 3. As reported in a recent article by Brian Baxter of AmLaw Daily, Fulbright is now the most recent AmLaw 100 firm to ink a deal with one of London’s top international firms. The move creates what Baxter calls another true “giant”, as the new Norton Rose Fulbright is now the world’s third largest law firm—with more than 3,800 lawyers and offices in over 50 cities around the globe. In the move, Fulbright will be dropping the name “Jaworski”, the name of one of its late founding partners Leon Jaworski, a man once known around Texas as the youngest lawyer in the state.
Mergers have become the norm for Norton Rose in recent years. Says Baxter, “In 2010, Norton Rose picked up Canada’s Ogilvy Renault and South Africa’s Deneys Reitz, while merging with Calgary-based energy shop Macleod Dixon” in 2011. The move to add Fulbright & Jaworski into the mix in 2013 further solidifies the firm’s diverse international platform, and brings enhanced stability and prominence by tapping into deep roots in the US market. Seeking strong US-based merger partners has also been the strategy of various other leading London firms, including the likes of Hogan Lovells, DLA Piper, Clifford Chance and SNR Denton (now Dentons).
Baxter interviewed Ward Bower of Altman Weil, who helped shed some light on why the move has been found so appealing for many US-based firms. Says Bower, “There’s a saying that if you buy in London, you get Europe for free.” In many ways, that may be true. However, starting to build from the ground up can be difficult. In addition to troubles finding space in London’s Old City neighborhood, where almost all of the top law firms are based, Bower adds it is “just too hard to build from scratch in London.” So many firms end up buying their way in, with the added benefit of much easier access to the rest of Europe. Or in the case of Norton Rose—to the rest of the world.
It will be interesting to see which and how many other top London and US firms seek to join forces in the years to come.