BigLaw firms in the U.S. - Statistics & Facts

In the United States, ‘BigLaw’ refers to a certain type of large law firm. Broadly speaking, law firms in the United States can be categorized into three categories: solo law firms, small law firms and large law firms. Solo law firms comprise of a single lawyer, who will often handle general legal enquiries but in some cases may specialize in one area. Small firms typically consist of between two and ten lawyers, meaning they can often offer a broader range of specialization than solo firms. However, their small size allows for a sense of familiarity and one-on-one attention that is often seen as a benefit of solo firms. This is to be contrasted with large law firms, which can range in size from several dozen lawyers in one location to several thousand across multiple countries. However, their size allows large firms to specialize in all areas of law and handle most type of legal work. As such, typically their clients will be organizations or individuals with a range of legal issues. BigLaw firms are the largest of the large law firms, usually employing 100 or more lawyers who are well-paid and recruited from the nation’s best law schools. Such firms also maintain a national and often international presence across several offices.

BigLaw firms generate a large and growing revenue in the United States. The top 100 U.S. BigLaw firms generated a combined gross revenue of 91.44 billion U.S. dollars in 2017. In comparison, the total legal services market in the U.S. was estimated at 100.9 billion U.S. dollars in 2017, although it should be noted that the revenue of the top 100 law firms include some revenue streams generated internationally. In 2017, the highest-grossing BigLaw firm in the United States was Kirkland with 3.17 billion U.S. dollars, followed by Latham, Baker McKenzie, DLA Piper and Skadden Arps.

In terms of the number of lawyers employed, there is some cross over between the top BigLaw firms but also some differences. With 4,719 lawyers, Baker McKenzie employs the most lawyers, followed by DLA Piper, Norton Rose, Hogen Lovells and Jones Day. This difference between the top firms by revenue versus headcount is likely related, at least in part, to the extent to which current industry trends aimed at increasing efficiency have been implemented. For example, in 2017, 36.6 percent of laws firms stated they were shifting work to contract and temporary lawyers, while 33.4 percent stated they were shifting work to paraprofessionals, and 49.1 percent said they were using technology to replace human resources. All these measures have the potential to increase the revenue generated by BigLaw firms without a need for their headcount to increase at the same rate.

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