Biglaw hasn’t exactly experienced Conquest, War, and Famine. But Bonus Reductions, Salary Freezes, and Dissolutions sure make one feel like a seal of whup-ass has been opened up on the legal community.
But the number one business story affecting the legal community in 2008 was the rash of Biglaw layoffs. Layoffs were the Shock and Awe campaign of Biglaw’s 2008.
The first shot across the bow was provided by Cadwalader. Way back on January 10th, 2008, we reported:
Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft has confirmed to us that it will be laying off 35 attorneys. Please see the statement below, which we just received from Hill & Knowlton, the powerhouse public relations firm. When a law firm hires an outside PR / crisis management shop, you know they have something big on their hands.
Of course, that was just the start of CWT’s 2008 layoff party. By the end of July, Cadwalader was at it again:
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.
In July the economy looked bad. But few knew that it was actually heading off of a cliff. It turns out that Cadwalader was just the tip of a huge iceberg.
Biglaw lowers the boom on more attorneys after the jump.
Cadwalader set the standard for massive, announced layoffs. As the economy worsened, many big firms followed along. White & Case axed 70 associates. Orrick fired 40. Proskauer laid off 60 people, including first years.
But for every firm that got their layoffs done in an open manner, there seemed to be another shop that decided to conduct “stealth layoffs.” We’ll never know the full 2008 body count due to the economic crisis, because so many firms insisted that their attorney reductions were due to performance reasons.
If you got into Biglaw looking for job security, 2008 was not your year.
And all of the pain suffered by Biglaw associates was also visited upon support staffs across the nation. Nothing highlights how difficult the market is for secretaries and paralegals quite like Dechert. Dechert fired 72 staffers a week before Christmas, and then announced market bonuses that can escalate to above market compensation for high billers five days later.
So much for Biglaw being recession proof.