Are large law firms reeling with the rest of the economy? Reading legal headlines since January 1, you would think so. But maybe not. 

In Survey: Law Firms Don’t Expect to Make Radical Changes the AmLaw Daily reports on a new Altman Weil law firm survey (conducted March and April). [The preceding link is to a fee-based webinar about the survey.] The surprise finding, quoting AmLaw Daily:

“Law firms are not doing anything dramatic and are not planning to do anything dramatic [in response to the economic downturn],” says Eric Seeger, an Altman Weil consultant and co-author of the survey, Law Firms in Transition.

First a quibble, in law firm land, I would say the dissolutions of 2008 and lay-offs of 2009 are not just dramatic but earth-shattering. OK, so much for semantics. Is it possible nothing will change, that the economy is not so bad, that BigLaw can continue its bad ways? A recently released BTI survey finds that legal spend in 2009 will drop only 1.4% for all of 2009. Hmmm.

Here’s one take: BigLaw is playing musical chairs. Cut costs short term but hope for the best long term. “My firm will be ok, others will hurt.” If, in fact, BTI is right and legal spending is only down modestly, then it seems likely with a bit of market- and wallet-share shifts, many firms will do just fine. The question is, however, which firms will be left without a chair when the music stops.

Here’s another take: Law firm management is in total denial. A year from now, we’ll know.