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LITIGATORS FEEL THE PINCH, BUT NOT AS SEVERELY AS THEIR CORPORATE COLLEAGUES

By David Bario

American Lawyer.com

February 25, 2009

Last week the Litigation Daily wondered how the “Black Thursday” layoffs of Feb. 12 might have affected our readers, given litigation’s reputation as a safe haven for law firms in troubled times. We heard from a few firms that litigators had been laid off, albeit not in the same numbers as their corporate brethren.

But the news isn’t all bad: Legal search consultant (and poker champion) Wendeen Eolis reported the results of an informal survey suggesting, in Eolis’s words, that there is “more activity in litigation departments than meets the eye.” Thankfully, by “activity” Eolis means hiring, not layoffs.

In January, Eolis International Group surveyed 200 lawyers at 130 firms to find out what’s happening in litigation departments around the country. Eolis told us that at least 50 of the firms were looking to hire partners and associates with experience in securities litigation. “It’s not that litigation has suddenly ballooned,” Eolis said, “but there has been an uptick that is far broader than what has generally been assumed and what’s been reported on the blogs.”

Eolis said her survey revealed that firms–particularly non-New York firms–are bulking up their regulatory capabilities, especially when it comes to securities. (A tribute, perhaps, to the prosecutorial experience of new SEC enforcement chief Robert Khuzami?) “All that gearing up for additional regulatory work is happening in litigation departments more than in stand-alone departments, interdisciplinary groups, or in corporate departments,” Eolis told us.

Not surprisingly, Eolis’s survey registered a move among firms to shift underworked litigators to bankruptcy and restructuring work. In general, she found that litigators have felt the economic pinch less acutely than corporate lawyers, confirming what we’ve been hearing as well.  But she said there is a caveat: Litigation partners without a book of business are being warned not to rely on their corporate counterparts to send work their way. “Even though corporate departments are much more pressured than litigation departments at the vast majority of firms,” Eolis said, “the litigators are more pressured at the partner level if they don’t have independent clients.” In other words, time to polish up your rainmaking skills.