Experts conclude that the Great Recession began in December 2007 and ended in June 2009. For me, it started in March 2008, when I realized that my bankruptcy practice had suddenly picked up. Ten years have passed, and in that time, the practice of law has changed significantly. Our membership has grown, from 4,225 in 2008 to 5,413 (as of 2/1/18).
What is the state of the local legal market today? I asked several people who have a finger on the pulse of it:
Heather McCullough & Jill Huse own Society54, which coaches and consults with professional service providers. They note that:
- There are far more national firms in Charlotte today than there were 10 years ago. We have lost many of our “homegrown” firms to mergers/acquisitions.
- Summer associate classes have decreased as have the number of full-time associates within firms.
- Lateral movement is stronger.
- Lawyers are doing more with less staff.
- Once a banking town, Charlotte has diversified significantly to include leading companies in the energy, technology and manufacturing/distribution industries.
- The average age of attorneys has increased: nationally, from age 39 to age 51 over the past 30 years. This leads to issues with succession planning as firms look to the future.
Nancy Roberson has been Executive Director of the Mecklenburg County Bar and Mecklenburg Bar Foundation for 15 years. She observes that:
- Specialty firms are proliferating and thriving, solo and small firms have increased and an exodus of large firm partners is noticeable.
- The local law school has come and gone.
- Document review “contractor” gigs and other non-traditional attorney jobs have increased.
Karen Spratt of Spratt Associates provides human resource consulting and staffing for a variety of industries, including legal. Karen believes that:
- One of the most significant challenges is recruiting quality candidates with the requisite skill sets for legal jobs requiring specific experience.
- Charlotte is growing rapidly, unemployment is low and all the education in the world will not supplant relevant experience when employers have immediate needs and neither the time nor the resources to train.
- The hiring process is more deliberate, including looking to shift work internally and cross-train current employees prior to considering a new hire.
- The financial crisis reinforced that prosperity can be fleeting and nothing is permanent.
Camille Stell is Vice President of Client Services for Lawyers Mutual Liability Insurance Company of North Carolina. She notes that few law firms seem to have fully recovered from the recession and few lawyers acknowledge just how much the legal marketplace has changed as a direct result of the recession. When she worked for Lawyers Mutual in the 1990s, she spent her time advising lawyers about law practice management systems. She started her second round of employment with Lawyers Mutual in May 2009. Camille says that:
- Her post-recession conversations center around where to find clients and how to attract them; this is the number one concern.
- Big Law continues to hire marketing professionals, though many firms employ fewer marketing staff now than in the mid-2000s.
- Smaller firms are hiring marketing professionals on staff or working with marketing consultants.
- Solo and small firm lawyers are also increasing their skill sets to include strategic networking, building robust referral networks and improving their business development skills.
- While some lawyers are still reluctant marketers, they recognize these skills are necessary.
Next month, I’ll share their opinions on what Mecklenburg County lawyers should be doing to stay competitive. If you have thoughts, please reach out to me (firstname.lastname@example.org or 704/377-4300).