History repeats itself. We quote from our post of January 10:
Just half an hour ago, based on information we gleaned from various sources, we asked: “Is today Layoff Day at Cadwalader?” The answer would appear to be: YES.
Earlier this morning, we once again posed the question: “Is today Layoff Day at Cadwalader?” And once again, the firm has confirmed — this time to the WSJ Law Blog — that it will be laying off 96 lawyers, from counsel on down to first-year associates. The intelligence in our post from earlier this morning, which estimated the carnage at “as many as 100 attorneys, ranging from special counsel down to the current first-year associate class,” was essentially correct.
90 of the 96 cuts will come out of the real estate finance and securitization practices, said the firm’s chairman, Chris White. Most of the affected lawyers, said White, are in the New York, Charlotte and London offices, with “one or two” in Washington. The 96 layoffs are in addition to the 35 lawyers the firm laid off in January.
Wow — that’s a ton of attorneys. Ninety-six lawyers would appear to be the biggest round of lawyer layoffs in the current economic cycle (see Bruce MacEwen’s layoffs table). Congratulations, Cadwalader!
Cadwalader chairman Chris White gives the WSJ Law Blog a spiel about how the firm got caught up in the mania surrounding commercial mortgage-backed securities:
“There was a frothiness that occurred as a result of the Blackstones and the Apollos using mortgage-backed securities to fund their buyouts. It was a lot like junk bonds becoming the instrument of choice in the late 80’s and early 90’s.”
White explained that, in 2004, there were only $98 billion worth of mortgage-backed securities issued. In 2008, he said, that number ballooned to $314 billion. “So we grew right along with client demand. And now that market has contracted severely. That $314 billion from last year will go to roughly $60 billion in 2008 — an 80% contraction.”
With his use of the passive — “[t]here was a frothiness” — and his “we grew right along with client demand” remark, White seems to be offering a “not our fault, everyone was doing it, nobody predicted this” sort of defense. But isn’t it the job of firm management to make sure that a firm is well-diversified among practice areas and adequately protected against downside risk?
(Perhaps the WSJ Law Blog should have pressed White a bit harder on this. Maybe they could have gotten White to throw former chairman Bob Link under the bus, since the firm’s disastrous overexpansion happened under Link’s watch. Link is the leader featured in the firm’s embarrassing-in-hindsight video advertisement.)
To be sure, other Biglaw shops have been hurt by the credit crunch and the economic downturn. But after this latest round of layoffs, involving close to 100 lawyers, it lies beyond dispute that no major firm has been hit as hard as Cadwalader. This obviously raises questions — or should, in the mind of anyone looking to work for or retain CWT — about whether the firm is well-managed.
As for offering the “affected” associates an opportunity to transfer into other groups, White said, “We can do that a little bit at the junior levels — the first and second years — but, at the third, fourth and fifth years, lawyers aren’t fungible.”…
Markel said that the 96 associates who are laid off will receive severance pay through the end of the year.
Five months’ severance — is this accurate? If so, it’s definitely on the generous side. So look on the bright side, CWT associates: you’re getting almost half a year of paid vacation.
We’ll have more on the Cadwalader situation as it unfolds. If you have info to share, please email us. Thanks.
Update: More about the Cadwalader layoffs appears here.
Cadwalader to Cut 96 Lawyers [WSJ Law Blog]