The reason it felt like a record number of attorneys lost their jobs this year is because that is exactly what happened.
The number of attorneys working at the top 250 firms dropped by 5,259 last year — an overall drop of 4%, The National Law Journal reports.
That is the greatest drop since the NLJ began collecting the data 30 years ago and the first time numbers have slipped since 1993. That year the decline was only 0.9 per cent.
Associates of course took the biggest brunt of the layoffs — down a full 8.7% to 61,733.
Numbers-wise, almost all those that joined the top 250 in 2008 were gone in 2009. The number of attorneys increased 4.3% in 2008, to 131,928, but decreased to 126,669 in 2009.
NLJ: Among the top 75 law firms on the list, 15 had reductions of more than 100 lawyers. Of the top 50, seven cut more than 200 attorneys. The firm with the largest percentage decrease was No. 95 Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson, which declined by 26.4 per cent to 468 attorneys from 636 in 2008. Last year, the firm held the No. 58 slot in the rankings. The firm losing the greatest number of attorneys was Latham & Watkins, which shed 444 lawyers. It had 1,878 attorneys this year, compared with 2,322 in 2008, for a 19.1 per cent decline. It slid from No. 4 to No. 6 in the ranking.
Before this financial crisis, big firm attorneys probably felt as secure as anyone in their jobs. Barring an insider trader arrest, the chances of being fired were small. You could show up and do your work (some way more than others) and make a really high salary and basically be isolated from the ups and downs of the economy.
But this last year was, as the numbers show, different. There are very few big firm or former big firm attorneys who do not know someone who was laid off this year. And it was not just cutting the fat, though there was some of that.
A still-employed litigator commented recently that contract attorneys hired for a document review had done an amazing job — a anecdotal indicator, we noted, of all the unemployed talent out there.
NOW WATCH: Briefing videos
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.