Yellow Pages reflects Growth and Contraction in Grand Forks Legal Market

One of my areas of subinterest is studying the attorney section of the Grand Forks yellow pages section of the phone book. As a publication, the phone books days (as a paper publication) are numbered given the rise of the internet and smartphones. However, if you look back, the yellow pages are a facinating reflection of our culture, values, and the growth (or decline) of an industry. The attorney section in the yellow pages section of the Northwestern Bell Telephone directory (later the US West Directory and now known as Dex) for Grand Forks is no exception. Looking at them through the years, shows the rise and fall of many law firms. Individual attorneys come and go and the extent of the advertising reflects that as well. Based upon the yellow pages, below are the total number of law firms in Grand Forks/East Grand Forks (For purposes of this survey, if an attorney has an individual phone line but has the same address as another attorney–we are going to continue to give him or her the benefit of the doubt that he or she is her own law firm).

1960: 30 firms

1970: 34 firms

1980: 46 firms

1989-90: 53 firms

2000-01: 51 firms

2005-06: 45 firms

2010-11: 38 firms

According to my “unscientific” count, there are 34 law firms with offices in Grand Forks-East Grand Forks today. It is telling that the number of law firms matches the number in the 1970’s, which reflects a contracting legal market. I have speculated over the years why. A couple reasons maybe how the 2000’s were tough economic times for attorneys here, with few firms hiring and very few young attorneys staying permanently. In my opinion, the legal market has rebound nicely in the 2010s, but with young attorneys being drawn to lucrative positions in the oil boom area of the western part of North Dakota–few want to set up shop here. In addition, we are finding that a number of longtime lawyers who have been mainstays in this market are retiring and sadly even dying—some without a successor in place. Their business gets spread around to the rest of us. It means busy times for those of us with a work ethic.

Finally, for those interested, there are currently five law firms in Grand Forks who can directly trace their lineage back to one of the 30 law firms which existed in 1960. For those who can e-mail me and correctly name all five, I will send you a Larry Richards pen which contains a pen light!