Layoffs, Libraries / Librarians, Paralegals, Secretaries / Administrative Assistants

Nationwide Layoff Watch: Fried Frank Follow-Up

Fried Frank Harris Shriver Jacobson LLP Abovethelaw Above the Law blog.jpgAs promised, we bring you an update on yesterday’s coverage of staff layoffs at Fried Frank. Here are a few additional details, from the National Law Journal (subscription):

Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson is reducing administrative staff in New York and Washington. The reductions, which a firm spokeswoman said were less than 10% of the law firm’s 730 staffers firmwide, affect primarily floating secretaries, part-time assistants and paralegals and library personnel.

The layoffs, first reported on, resulted from the law firm’s review of its administrative resources and staffing requirements. The employees will receive severance packages based on years of service, the spokeswoman said.

Update / Correction: One source questions the claim that the layoffs affected “primarily” floaters and part-time assistants. According to this tipster, many of the laid off employees were full-time, senior secretaries — a number of them over 50, and some just a few months shy of getting their pensions. This source predicts that age discrimination lawsuits will be filed.
One tipster tells us the number of affected employees was in the range of 50 to 60, which would amount to under 10 percent of 730 staffers, and that severance amounted to one week of pay for every year of service. We also hear this:

Apparently, mail room, duplicating and facilities were told that their jobs were being outsourced by the end of the year. They could start looking for new jobs before getting laid off at the end of the year or apply with the outsourcing agencies (with no guarantees of a job or placement at Fried Frank).

New York staff were given “a few minutes to pack up and get out”; cars were provided to take people home (a nice touch — hopefully that will become “market”). One source claims that employees were laid off without regard to their seniority or their performance reviews, whether negative or positive.
What about attorneys? A spokesperson emphasized to us that Fried Frank “doesn’t do lawyer layoffs,” which was reiterated to associates by firm chair Valerie Ford Jacob at a meeting yesterday.
(Jacob also claimed that the firm has never laid off lawyers. But one source at FFHSJ begs to differ. This source claims that the firm laid off attorneys back in 1990, and then “suffered years of recruiting problems because of it,” which may explain its reluctance to go down that path today.)
More detail about the meeting, after the jump.

Here is how one attendee summarized Valerie Jacob’s remarks at yesterday’s meeting in the New York office:

She said, “I’m going to be straight with you guys because I believe in transparency.”

However, this [was] the order of [discussion topics]: (1) pizza parties are fun, we used to do them so litigators and corporate people could meet, but not anymore because people complained; (2) this is recruiting season, please recruit heavily and [get] good people, so you can give them your work; (3) today is the culmination of a two-year restructuring program; (4) the firm is doing really well, sure we’re a little slower, but not nearly as slow as many of our peers; and (5) our support function are not as efficient as our peer firms, so we restructured.

When law firms lay off administrative staff, they often invoke the “we weren’t as efficient as we could have been” explanation. See, e.g., here (Kaye Scholer secretarial layoffs), here (Holland & Knight staff layoffs), here (Bingham McCutchen staff layoffs), and here (Thelen Reid staff layoffs, due in part to “post-merger redundancies”).
Citing inefficiencies and redundancies is one way of minimizing the significance of staff cutbacks (and the extent to which they’re based on the worsening economy). As a certain ATL commenter might say, “Guys at my high school laid off support staff to improve efficiency, it was no big deal.”
One commenter on yesterday’s post defends the layoffs:

Are law firms now not allowed to conduct themselves in a fiscally responsible manner without being called out for it on ATL? If these are economy-related layoffs, I agree that that is interesting news to share. But if these are really the result of a 2-year survey and identifying redundancies (i.e., roles that were not necessary, not contributing value, and the like over a period of YEARS), it doesn’t seem fair to ring the layoff scaremonger bell.

Uh, where did we “ring the layoff scaremonger bell” in our post? If you look back at what we wrote, it was rather matter-of-fact.
The majority opinion in Plessy v. Ferguson has not been viewed kindly by history — and with good reason. But we would like to paraphrase Justice Brown’s (in)famous language, which we were reminded of when we watched Thurgood on Sunday: if you viewed our earlier report as “scaremongering,” it is “not by reason of anything found in the [post], but solely because [you chose] to put that construction upon it.”
(We freely admit to scaremongering in the pages of this self-described “legal tabloid.” But yesterday’s Fried Frank post wasn’t a good example of it. When we engage in scaremongering, you’ll know it. Cadwalader, holla.)
Staff layoffs reported at Fried Frank [National Law Journal (subscription) via ABA Journal]
Earlier: Nationwide Layoff Watch: Fried Frank Staff Layoffs

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