The Big Law Landscape


2021 was a record-breaking year for Big Law firms in terms of revenue.[1] When commenting on the successful year, one Big Law partner described it as “the most ridiculous year ever.”[2]

Across the top 100 firms, revenue increased 14.8 percent in 2021.[3] Revenue per lawyer increased 12.5 percent.[4] Fifty-two of the top 100 firms brought in over a billion dollars in gross revenue![5]

The increase in demand for work also resulted in an increase in pay and hiring for lawyers.[6] At the top firms, salaries for starting associates jumped from $190,000 to $215,000.[7] Lateral hiring skyrocketed too, as partner laterals increased by around 43 percent and associate laterals increased by 149 percent year-over-year.[8]

However, this type of success was unsustainable, as evidenced by a slowdown in 2022.[9] Through the first three quarters of 2022, firm profits decreased by 18.3 percent.[10] In this same time period, mergers & acquisitions (M&A) were down nearly 30 percent.[11] As a result, ancillary practices—such as tax, employee benefits and compensation, and antitrust—slowed as well.[12]

Capital markets got hit even harder than M&A.[13] U.S. initial public offerings (IPOs) raised around $18 billion, down 95 percent from the record high of $275 billion raised in 2021.[14] This practice area continues to struggle as the Fed continues to raise interest rates to combat growing inflation.[15]

2022’s overall slowdown had repercussions across the industry for both lawyers and firms.[16] Where 2021 saw a need for lawyers, 2022 has led to layoffs across many firms.[17] Firms have repeatedly said that the cuts are due to the annual review process, but sources familiar with the firms described it as a response to the slowing market.[18] One firm even responded to the slowdown by delaying its incoming first year associates’ start date.[19] The firm’s start date was pushed back from October 2022 to January 2023.[20] The firm is giving the associates a monthly stipend of $6,000 and will not provide health insurance until the associates start in January.[21] The $6,000 monthly stipend is a lot less than what first year associates typically make, which is around $4,135 per week.[22]

The slowdown has also resulted in Big Law firms merging with one another.[23] Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe recently announced their planned combination with Buckley.[24] As a result of the acquisition, Orrick expands its practice in New York, Santa Monica, and San Francisco.[25] Also, it will open a new office in Chicago and double the size of its Washington, D.C. office.[26] Buckley made this move after departed partners shared that they were enticed by the idea of working at larger firms.[27] The merger of the two firms resulted in a firm of over 1,000 lawyers.[28]

Furthermore, Holland & Knight announced a merger with the top Nashville firm Waller Lansden Dortch & Davis.[29] With this merger, Holland & Knight will acquire 260 attorneys, a successful healthcare practice, and a presence in the southeastern portion of the United States.[30] It will also add Waller’s revenue, which was reported at $182 million in 2021.[31]

2022 followed 2021 in a disappointing fashion, and the outlook for 2023 does not inspire optimism.[32] Throughout 2022, client demand fell and there is a lingering fear that client demand will continue to decrease into 2023.[33]Although Big Law has dealt with a decrease in demand, midsize firms have seen significant growth as clients look for high-quality but more cost-effective counsel.[34] With a new class of associates graduating in May, it will be interesting to keep an eye on the Big Law market.

[1] See Patrick Smith, New York Law Firms Take Heavy Profit and Revenue Hits, Am. Law. (Nov. 21, 2022),

[2] See id.

[3] See Kathryn Rubino, All the Billion-Dollar Biglaw Firms: A Look at the Am Law 100, Above the L. (Apr. 26, 2022),

[4] See id.

[5] See id.

[6]  See Karen Sloan, U.S. Lawyers Swapped Firms at Record Pace in 2021, Reuters (Mar. 30, 2022),

[7] See id.

[8] See id.

[9] See Patrick Smith, ‘A Lot of People are Not Busy’: When M&A Slows, the Whole Firm Feels It, Am. Law. (July 11, 2022),

[10] See Smith, supra note 1.

[11] See Smith, supra note 9.

[12] See id.

[13] See Roy Storm, IPO Busts Sends Big Law Work Plummeting 95% From Record Year, Bloomberg L. (Jan. 17, 2023),

[14] See id.

[15] See id.

[16] See Meghan Tribe & Roy Storm, Big Law Layoffs Look to Correct ‘Over-Hiring’ in Pandemic Boom, Bloomberg L. (Nov. 11, 2022),

[17] See id.

[18] See id.

[19] See Staci Zaretsky & Kathryn Rubino, Biglaw Firm Defers Associate Start Dates to 2023 Due to Work Slowdown, Above the L. (Sept. 28, 2022),

[20] See id.

[21] See id.

[22] See id.

[23] See Meghan Tribe, Orrick, Buckley Show Big Law Mergers Budding After Pandemic Drop, Bloomberg L. (Jan. 23, 2023),

[24] See id.

[25] See id.

[26] See id.

[27] See id.

[28] See id.

[29] See Staci Zaretsky, Top Biglaw Firm Starts New Year Off On Right Foot With Merger Announcement, Above the L. (Jan. 4, 2023),

[30] See id.

[31] See id.

[32] See Years of Uncertainty Awaits Law Firms: 2023 Report on the State of the Legal Market, Thomson Reuters (Jan. 10, 2023),

[33] See id.

[34] See id.


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Fordham Journal of Corporate & Financial Law