"At the 15 most-profitable firms, revenue increased 6.6% on average, according to data collected by Citi Private Bank's Law Firm Group. That compares with a 4% increase across 170 other law firms surveyed by Citi." - Sara Randazzo, "Legal Revenue Grows as Elite Law Firms Set the Pace," The Wall Street Journal, April 5, 2015. Here is the article.
But, as Sara Ranazzo points out, the recovery was uneven. The 15 to 20 elite law firms handling merger & acquisition work or with tech clients fared significantly better than the rest of the pack.
That rest of the pack essentially were general practice firms which hadn't created a brandname in a highly marketable niche. In a sense they were peddling what might now be considered "commodity services." There is a real question, given that non-differentiated positioning, if they can survive in the next five years.
According to some experts, the buyer's market could get worse for those plain-vanilla law firms. That's because the work generated by the financial crisis is being completed.
In addition, as is widely known, litigation is decreasing in demand. Business clients know it's not only expensive and a wild card. Also, as was palpable during "Pao v. Kleiner," a trial is, as it was since the beginning of civilization, entertainment. The media exploit that. In the process, the enterprise's brand becomes damaged. Also, because of its lower cost and greater confidentiality, more companies are mandating arbitration both for consumer and employee disputes.
Recently, both Steptoe & Johnson and Wiley Rein have had Reductions in Force. We can probably expect more of those in 2015. The only way legal practices outside that magic 15 to 20 circle of firms can save themselves is through merging and/or overhauling their portfolio of services to what's in big demand. If law firms were run by businesspeople, the law of supply and demand would dominate the ethos. Not tradition. Not what they're good at. Not the niches in which partners had built their reputations.