Tom Hanks in Bonfire
Tom Hanks as bond-trading wunderkind Sherman McCoy in The Bonfire of the Vanities (1990).

The WSJ today runs "The End of Big Law" — an unkind poke at masters of the legal universe.  In the op-ed, Douglas McCollam, who writes for The American Lawyer, leads with a WSJ audience-pleasing thought:  "[T]here is at least one bright spot amidst all the [economic] gloom: For once your lawyers are suffering right along with you."

Mr. McCollam does go on.  Blawgletter's faves include:

It seems plain that a great many members of the American bar fell prey to the same strain of hubris that infected their clients. They embarked on empire building—opening offices from Beijing to Bucharest—and snapping up smaller rivals, confident that the future belonged not so much to the best and the brightest as to the biggest. The movement toward gigantism was virtually uniform across the legal industry.

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At bottom, what’s in question is the whole economic edifice of the modern American law firm. Like the pharaohs of old, big firms are enamored of constructing pyramids with an ever-widening base of associates and nonequity partners toiling on behalf of a narrowing band of equity partners at the top. Increasing a firm’s “leverage”—as expressed through the billable hour, one of the most pernicious creations in the annals of commerce—has been the key metric driving profitability at big law firms over the last generation.

We find ourselves unable to rouse sympathy, much less empathy.  For, unlike Big Law, our firm:
  • Hasn't acquired any firm, rival or not;..
  • Can't imagine biggest status; 
  • Presents negative leverage — fewer associates (32) than partners (50).
  • Usually assigns one partner and one associate to a case. 
  • Works more on a contingent fee and flat fee basis than on hourly cases.
  • Does litigation — lawsuits and arbitrations — only. 

Yes, we have opened offices around the country — in Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles, New York, and Seattle — and most recently in New York.  But what caused that — hubris or the mess on Wall Street?