The Mayer Brown partner who commented on the ATL article had the right point. It's a lot of handwaving about changes that have been in place in other industries for awhile now. The NR article can be summed up as: there is money to be made, and more competition for it. I'm not sure we should be reminiscing about the 1970's and how there was less competition, because in part that lack of competition was the result of exclusion: excluding women and minorities, etc. Things were just dandy back when Harvard accepted 25% of applicants, because, in the absence of federal student loan guarantees, the only people who applied to begin with were people who could pay out of pocket.
Vis-a-vis instability: big law is more stable than most professional jobs. Dewey going under generated several NYT articles. How much press was generated when Monitor Group (which was in the top 10 of Vault's consulting firm rankings) went under? In big law, associates run the risk of getting stealthed. In other companies (GE and IBM notably), there is an open management policy of firing the bottom 10% every year: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vitality_c ... philosophy
. That's a bigger than Weil-sized layoff (Weil was 7% of associates--coincidentally the same number as Microsoft's bottom bucket), every single year by blue-chip companies that aren't having any financial trouble. See: http://michelbaudin.com/2012/08/14/metr ... ing-people
You have to go past the rhetoric and look at the numbers. Demand is down a few % from peak, realization rates are down a few percent, and like in *every other industry* producer ability to increase prices is stagnant. There is no story here, other than the fact that the economy sucks and sucks for everyone in pretty similar ways.
A bigger story is what will happen to government lawyers when state governments collapse.