It’s not clear whether it’s too soon to call this a trend, but Joel Schoenmeyer at the Death and Taxes blog notes that at least one large firm, Chicago-based Sonnenschein has decided to get rid of its estates group. Shoenmeyer writes:
I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see other big law firms start to follow suit (an exception might be firms like McDermott, which are built around their estate planning and probate practices). I enjoyed my experience at Sidley & Austin, but it was clear that the estate planning department generally was treated as second class citizens. My understanding is that compensation for estate planning partners is lower than for litigators and corporate attorneys. I suspect this is true at a number of big firms, many of which view estate planning as a “service group” (there to provide support to other groups, or planning to the firm’s attorneys).
Schoenmeyer writes that part of this is money – estate planning, even the largest matters, don’t generate the same million dollars in fees as do large corporate clients.
It may be that big firms don’t need estate planning groups. But at this point, it doesn’t matter, suggests Schoenmeyer, because “good estate planners don’t need big firms either.” Trusts and estates boutiques are likely to be the wave of the future.