As an attorney search consultant, I believe that partner placements and legal recruiting have become increasingly difficult - and different - during the last five years. The primary reason for this is that as the economy took a drastic turn, many partners' portable books of business did also. As a result, they were faced with two very difficult and contradictory situations: (1) without significant business they may have gotten the "wink and the nod" that they should seek work elsewhere, and/or (2) making a lateral move was difficult because their portable business had diminished. Firms are more reluctant over the last few years to take a "gamble" on partners who previously did well.
Additionally, they significantly raised the required book of "verifiable" business before considering adding them to the firm. Whereas 1 million in portable business used to be a sought-after number, for many large firms that has been raised to 2 million in portable business. Smaller firms generally tend to want to see candidates in at least the $400K-$500K range.
An additional change that I've seen, and continue to observe, is with attorneys who were previously "service partners". These attorneys often did not do business development, nor were they encouraged to do so, because there was enough work from other partners. Sometimes it was even discouraged.
Unfortunately, when the economy experienced a downturn and the work was no longer plentiful, these senior attorneys who were not self-supporting were often told to find other work. Again, the lack of portable business was a harsh reality that has continued to plague many. I have spoken with many attorneys in this situation - some have gone from making huge salaries to just getting by. They have become a sad casualty of the economy – and the evolution of the law firm model - as a result of the recession. My sense is that even when the economy rebounds, service partners will be less desirable than previously. I always advise candidates to do whatever they can to be self-supporting - it's ultimately a matter of survival.