Law firm partner numbers from 2015 to 2020

Legal Practice Intelligence compared the number of partners in major law firms as at June 2020 to July 2015 using current and historic data published by The Australian. Only those firms appearing in both periods were included in the analysis. There were 29 law firms in the five year analysis.

The most recent data published in the Australian included 45 law firms. Therefore 16 law firms in the 2020 table either did not exist or did not provide data in 2015.

Law firms and the economy

The aggregate number of partners at the 29 firms increased by 11 per cent over the five year period. 11 per cent seems like a modest increase over five years.

Why 11 per cent? Is it a coincidence that the Australian economy grew by almost the same percentage over the same period? If it is not a coincidence then it implies that the growth of law firms is closely tied to the economy. This seems plausible.

The big picture may be 11 per cent but there were some standout increases and decreases amongst the 29 firms. The five firms with the largest percentage growth in partner numbers were Hall & Wilcox, Wotton + Kearney, Gilchrist Connell, Mills Oakley and Piper Alderman – all with more than a 45% increase.

The other firms had less dramatic increases or decreases in partner numbers. There were no firms in the group with more than a 17 per cent decrease. Any firm with a decrease of more than 17 per cent over the period likely sought refuge by merging with another firm.

Boom and bust

Of particular note is how good business was before Covid hit. Partner numbers for the 2020 group of 45 firms increased by 12 per cent over the past 12 month. Contrast this increase with the modest increase of 11 per cent over five years. Maybe this was a boom that is currently turning into a bust. Who could have known what would trigger the shakeout – a virus – which will likely be reflected in partner numbers at the end of the calendar year.