It has been a rough couple of years for America's law firms. Downsizing, consolidating mergers and acquisitions, rethinking strategy and even bankruptcy have plagued the profession as it seeks to recover from a grueling recession.
But there are glimmers of hope. For the firms that have survived the downturn – and those that are even prospering amid a new world order – the motto is not so much that Big Law is dead but that it has been reborn.
Large law firms now serve clients that expect them to be as cost conscious as they are. Gone are outsized hourly fee structures, replaced by budgets agreed to upfront. Work is no longer the sole responsibility of a senior partner and a cadre of freshly minted associates. Project management and teamwork are the buzzwords of the day.
Bustling new practice areas have surfaced in biotechnology, pharmaceuticals, health care and financial services regulation.
But among the disruption, the best law firms continue to thrive. And for the fourth year in a row, U.S. News & World Report and Best Lawyers have teamed to rank nearly 12,000 firms, including a large number of one-person firms, with more than 6,000 firms receiving Tier 1 national and/or rankings organized by specific metropolitan areas.
For the third year, one firm in each of 87 practice areas received a 2014 "Law Firm of the Year" designation, marking them as a best within their peer group.