Sutherland Asbill Brennan law firm.jpgIn these uncertain economic times, lots of law firms are holding lots of meetings. Sometimes they bring good news, and sometimes not-so-good news. E.g., Covington & Burling (welcoming the Heller IP group); Jenner & Block (everything’s dandy); McKee Nelson (layoffs).

Earlier this week, Sutherland announced associate and counsel meetings would be held next week. What might they be about?

According to the email from managing partner Mark Wasserman that announced the meetings, they “are not planned to announce bad news of any sort.” One Sutherland source takes him at his word:

Ninety-nine percent sure it’s just a “calming fears” meeting, since we’ve already done our nasty round of layoffs six months ago. Wasserman’s a straight shooter (best I’ve ever seen), so if he says there is not “bad news of any sort,” there won’t be.

We reached out to Wasserman, who explained:

We are having a series of roundtable discussions next week with our associates and counsel to share information, answer questions and seek input on topics relating to the economy, our clients and our strategy for the firm. Sharing information and obtaining input from our lawyers is important and valuable to us.

And, as we noted in the email announcing the meetings, there will be no announcement of any bad news, including announcement of any layoffs.

Kudos to Sutherland for being proactive and involving associates and counsel in such discussions. Some firms have taken a decidedly top-down approach to dealing with the economic climate, but they might have been better served by soliciting input from their associates first.

Read more, including the full Sutherland memo, after the jump.


If firms talk to their associates before implementing layoffs or taking other drastic action, they might learn, for example, that some associates would rather have their bonuses cut or salaries frozen than go through layoffs (where they are behind a Rawlsian “veil of ignorance,” not knowing whether they might be laid off or not). In any event, no matter what firms decide to do about the economy, associates will have a greater sense of buy-in if they are consulted first.

Is your firm having a similar meeting in the near future? Feel free to let us know.

SUTHERLAND — MEMORANDUM — ASSOCIATE & COUNSEL MEETINGS

From: Eshun, Gabrielle On Behalf Of Wasserman, Mark

Sent: Thursday, November 06, 2008 3:04 PM

To: ASSOC; COUNSEL

Cc: PARTNER

Subject: Associate & Counsel Meetings

All:

As everyone is obviously aware, a number of developments in the last few months have affected the economy generally and the business community (including the legal industry) specifically. Sutherland is in a better position than most because we have a very strong and healthy firm with a diverse client base and practice areas. Even so, we are not isolated (nor is any business) from current economic events. Although we foresee that the road ahead will be bumpy for all businesses, there will also be opportunities.

We have been talking with the partners about these developments and how to ensure that the firm is best positioned for the future. We would also like to discuss these topics with you and we think it would be helpful to get your insights and input about these and related topics. We would appreciate your joining us for the roundtable discussion scheduled in your office next week on these topics. Those of you with specific questions you’d like discussed are welcome to submit your questions in advance by sending your questions either to Kristy Weathers or either one of us. And for those prone to worry — these meetings are not planned to announce bad news of any sort.

The discussion sessions will be held:

  • Monday, Nov. 10 – Atlanta (Courtroom) (10:30 am eastern) with video conference to Tallahassee; Houston (9:30 am central time)
  • Wednesday, Nov. 12 – Washington, with video conference to New York (10:30 am in the Sutherland Room)

    We hope you can attend and look forward to discussing these matters with you.

    Mark Wasserman and Tom Gick