The Decade's Biggest Stories

The National Law Journal

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The old saw "may you live in interesting times" is often considered a curse. And after a decade that encompassed so much turmoil, it's difficult to argue with that interpretation. Even in the legal profession, generally a haven of stability with its comfortable salaries and steady work, tumult seemed to rule.

In this issue, we recount — with no pun intended, Mr. Gore — the events of a remarkable decade for the law and the profession. On Jan. 1, 2000, it would have been difficult to imagine the current state of affairs. The dot-com bubble was still inflating. We were at peace. The world had even ducked the Y2K bug.

So much has changed in the past decade, in fact, that we struggled to whittle down our selections for the defining moments in law to this special issue. In the end, wesettled upon 25 developments that we believe are the biggest legal stories of the decade. Consider this a scrapbook of memories — some pleasant, a few awful — of the 2000s. And as the '10s dawn and the interesting times continue, let us hope the curse turns into a blessing.

1. War on terror tests the limits of law
From telecommunications to transportation, from immigration to interrogation, from detention to rendition, the war on terrorism strained the conventional framework of American law. It triggered new statutes, the expansion of old ones and, in critics' views, transgressed others.

 

2. For associates, a time of thrills and chills
Between 2000 and 2009, law firms doled out jaw-dropping bonuses, lavished benefits like never before and hiked first-year salaries to a point that drew the envy of federal judges. The decade also featured mass job cuts, pay reductions and a decided shift in power for recent law graduates, many of whom, at the decade's conclusion, were clamoring for even part-time work at living-wage levels.

 

3. Accounting scandals flood the courts
Lax corporate oversight combined with an intense desire to keep company stock prices high created a climate that allowed executive after executive to cross the line. Faced with a barrage of high-profile scandals, prosecutors responded by making corporate fraud a priority. But in their eagerness to get tough, the government overreached, some argue.

 


 

4. They blog, they tweet, they friend
And, oh yes, they discover electronically. Tech advances redesigned lawyers' lives.



5. Seats change at the high court
A death and retirements lead to a new chief and the first Hispanic justice.



6. The decade was fun while it lasted
It's easy now to forget how much money law firms raked in during the mid-2000s.



7. Where have all the flowers gone?
The financial crisis knocked great cracks in the legal industry's foundations.



8. A law office in every port
American firms opened their doors from London to Dubai to Shanghai.




9. The ruling that picked a president
Supreme Court justices cast the vote that put George W. Bush in the White House.



10. A time of backlash and disgrace
Tort reform trimmed the trial bar's sails as its leading lights went to prison.




11. Of politics and prosecutors
Justice Department leadership falls in scandal over fired U.S. attorneys.



12. Really, fewer hourly bills
After years of talk, alternative fee arrangements get some action.




13. Goodbye to real partners
A rerouted partnership track leads to more employees and fewer owners.



14. Regulation takes a vacation
Lax enforcement could be blamed for several debacles at the end of the decade.



15. Court splits on race and gender
One victory for affirmative action in otherwise weak decade for liberal causes.



16. Little progress on diversity
High-profile firsts, but still few minority and women partners at Big Law.




17. Prosecutors behaving badly
Ted Stevens case puts spotlight on abuse of power by government lawyers.



18. The end of an age of innocence
The dot-com crash altered the relationship between firms and associates.



19. Downloading cases dominated
Key copyright rulings targeted services enabling widespread digital distribution.



20. A patently provocative period
The high court began to overrule the Federal Circuit; a major decision looms.



21. Death penalty lost some sting
Justices, legislators and jurors cut back the chances of capital punishment.



22. Threats went beyond words
Sometimes it was judicial power under attack, sometimes it was judicial lives.



23. Pakistani lawyers marched
To save an independent chief justice, they took the hits from police batons.



24. Gay rights battle heats up
Advocates get high court win, same-sex marriage becomes ballot issue.




25. Corruption cases get bigger
Jack Abramoff buys Washington. Marc Dreier steals $700 million.

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