December 16, 2010
STRAW POLL OF LAW FIRM LEADERS FROM WESTERN AND CENTRAL NEW YORK SHOWS OPTIMISM ABOUT THE FUTURE
Despite Tough Economy, a Majority Said Firms Hired the Same or More Associates in 2010
94% Expect Demand for Services to Remain the Same or Increase in 2011
Unlike Managing Partners Surveyed at New York City Meeting, Majority Said Clients Don't Have an Issue with Paying for the Work of Young Associates
(Albany, NY) - Leaders at law firms in Erie, Monroe and Onondaga counties were optimistic about hiring trends and demands for services in 2011, according to a straw poll recently conducted by the New York State Bar Association. In contrast to a similar survey of managing partners taken at a New York City meeting, a majority of these law firm leaders - which include managing partners as well as a past managing partner, a managing director and three partners - polled in Upstate New York said their firms hired first-year associates in 2010 at the same or slightly greater pace than they would in a typical year. Surprisingly, only one of the upstate respondents believed that demand for legal services would decrease in 2011, while more than 80% of these respondents expect their firms to hire the same number or slightly more first-year associates than they did in 2010.
The informal State Bar poll was conducted in Rochester at a recent meeting sponsored by the Task Force on the Future of the Legal Profession. The meeting was attended by law firm leaders from large, mid-size and boutique law firms. The Task Force was established in June 2010 by State Bar President Stephen P. Younger of New York (Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler LLP) to study and recommend ways to create a roadmap for the future use of technology in the profession, to improve legal education and training, to establish proper work/life balance for attorneys, and to analyze the billing structure in law firms.
"These results make it clear that the law firm leaders from Western and Central New York view the year 2010 as a period of recovery and they have an optimistic view of the future. All of the participants - whether from small or large firms - agree that the profession is ready for permanent, positive changes that will allow us to better serve the modern client while shaping a profession that is satisfying to today's lawyers and appealing to future lawyers," said President Younger.
"In our discussions, there was broad consensus on many issues," said State Bar President-Elect Vincent E. Doyle of Buffalo (Connors & Vilardo, LLP). "Lawyers are struggling to satisfy client expectations of immediate access, while maintaining some semblance of balance between their home and work lives. Law firms are willing to look at alternative billing methods because clients want fixed and predictable costs. As lawyers adapt to these changing realities, the key is to preserve the core values that are the soul of our profession."
Survey highlights include:
? All 17 law firm leaders who participated in the poll confirmed that their firms had experimented with something other than the billable hour system. However, only two said that their firms "regularly" used alternate billing methods.
? Four of the 17 respondents said that clients complain about having to pay for the work of first- or second-year associates. One additional respondent said that clients refuse to pay for such services.
? A majority of the respondents said that their firms expected attorneys to respond to non-emergency emails and phone calls on weekends and holidays.
? A large majority indicated that their firms offer flex policies including reduced hours, job sharing and flex times. Not surprisingly, more women attorneys took advantage of flex time than their male counterparts.
? Half of the respondents said their firms hired the same number attorneys in 2010 as compared to more typical years. Another two said they actually hired more.
? The outlook for 2011 was that a large majority expected their firms to hire at least the same amount of associates as in 2010.
? About 40% of the respondents said they anticipated demand for legal services to remain flat in 2011; while 47% believed the workload would increase modestly.
Of the leaders who responded, five said they were from firms of 25 lawyers or less; five were from firms of 26-100 attorneys; four were firms of 101-250 lawyers; and two were in firms of over 250 lawyers.
The earlier straw poll of 21 managing partners that attended a meeting in New York City had revealed a few interesting differences from the upstate poll. For example, 66% of the New York City meeting's respondents said their firms hired fewer attorneys in 2010 than in typical years. Also, a majority of the New York City meeting's respondents said clients complained about or refused to pay for the work of young associates. A larger percentage of New York City meeting respondents (30%) than the upstate respondents (11%) said their firms "regularly" used alternative billing.
Similar to the upstate respondents, an overwhelming number of New York City meeting's respondents - 90% - expected demand for legal services to remain the same or increase in the coming year.
Mr. Younger said that the Task Force on the Future of the Legal Profession will continue to meet with members of the profession, including small firm and solo practitioners, to gather information on these important issues. The Task Force will release a report on its findings in 2011.
The 77,000-member New York State Bar Association is the official statewide organization of lawyers in New York and the largest voluntary state bar association in the nation. Founded in 1876, NYSBA programs and activities have continuously served the public and improved the justice system for more than 130 years. www.nysba.org.