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by Vault Law Editors | December 26, 2008

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In a pair of articles published this month, The National Law Journal implies that American boutiques and smaller regional firms have a leg up on their larger brethren in times of duress such as these while admitting that the stakes are higher for such specialty shops. The first piece cites an Altman Weil survey that suggests that firms employing at least 250 attorneys in the five largest domestic legal markets?New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles and D.C.?suffered significantly higher dips in third-quarter accounts receivable collections than boutiques and outfits that do most of their business in second-tier legal markets. The geographic gap, of course, may decrease over time?remember, it takes a while for market slowdowns to spread from the skyscrapers of New York to the sprawl of Phoenix, where cuts only recently began (not to mention the extreme tape-delay between the U.S. and non-U.K. foreign markets).

Back in BigLaw?s hubs, though, the boutique model does carry a certain allure in its low-overhead existence?provided said firm?s expertise doesn?t fall exclusively in, oh, I dunno, construction law (where Chicago?s Stein, Ray & Harris dumped 4 of its 21 associates in November). José Astigarraga, who runs an 18-lawyer Miami boutique, sums up this dynamic in the second NLJ article by employing car-talk: ?When you?re in the Lincoln Towncar (a big law firm) and you go over a bump in the road, you don?t really feel it that much,? he said. ?In turn, boutiques are the Ferrari. When you hit a bump, you really feel it. But you can also turn on a dime, which you can?t do in the Towncar.?

Fair enough, all things considered. So now we know: The only safe bet for a lawyer these days is in lobbying (sub req?d).

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