Our third installment in the “Law Firm Taxonomy” series addresses corporate-centric firms. With malice towards none and candor towards all, I must confess that I find this species the most problematic of all seven in our taxonomy. I’ll explain why in a moment, but first let me, following Linneaus, simply describe these firms. By and large they:

  • are headquartered in non-global cities
  • cater to desirable upper/middle market clients, mostly non-financial corporations and very high net-worth individuals (the 1%)
  • and are solidly embedded in their local markets

There are a host of such firms, and some of them are quite large indeed, ranking comfortably within the AmLaw 50, but in an odd way they are a residual category consisting of firms that don’t fit crediblly or plausibly anywhere else.

Where did these firms come from and where are they going?

First, where they came from is the easy question: As any thoughtful reader well knows, BigLaw had a golden age from ca. ~1980 until September 2008. That economic environment, sui generis in our lifetimes (and absorbing the entire career of some fortunate souls), will never return. In those palmy times, it’s no surprise that some favored firms found themselves rooted in fertile ground and grew accordingly. It came with the territory.

Understand what I’m not saying: I’m not saying firms couldn’t exploit their blessed circumstances more or less effectively, and I’m not saying that individuals don’t matter. Individual leaders matter, and the only reason we don’t think of firms that failed to take advantage of the incoming tide is because, well, they didn’t. So they’ve been passed by and dropped off the radar. Call it survivorship bias, call it tautological, or merely call it res ipsa loquitur, but firms that lagged in the tailwind-fueled race aren’t big players today.

Now, where are they going?

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