An underreported aspect to all of the mass layoffs affecting the legal industry is the plight of in-house counsel. The day after Lehman folded, we wondered if the collapse meant the closing of a popular Biglaw exit option.
We all know that banks and other financial services institutions are laying off tons of employees. In-house attorneys are far from immune to these reductions.
But in-house lawyers also get laid off when banks merge and two legal departments have to be downsized into one. It happened when JPMorgan Chase acquired Bear Stearns. It happened when Bank of America swallowed Merrill Lynch.
And it looks like lawyer layoffs will be a negative externality of Wells Fargo’s merger with Wachovia. A tipster reports:
[Wells Fargo] is moving forward with a 15-20% across the board layoff in the law department (the new combined law department; WF and Wachovia). Layoffs will start as early as next week through June 1st…. Internal meetings with all employees in the department have already taken place.
After the jump, a Wells Fargo spokesperson responds to these reports.
Above the Law contacted Wells Fargo and obtained this statement:
Wells Fargo is going to do everything we can to reduce job losses related to the merger and restructuring and help displaced team members find new opportunities in the combined company. However, in these economic times our turnover rate is unusually low meaning fewer job become available inside the company, which means job losses will happen. Employment numbers will fluctuate over the merger integration period, but ultimately Wells Fargo will continue to be an important employer and community partner throughout the U.S.
We do not disclose the total number of positions being eliminated, but I can tell you that although it’s a small percentage of the Law Department, each and every team member is important to our company and we are providing them transition support and helping them find other jobs within Wells Fargo or the community.
Everybody is trying to find a way to force attrition. At least Wells is being more honest about it than some of the law firms we’ve covered.
Wells Fargo is of course one of the banks that is doing relatively well despite the downturn. The company just posted record Q1 earnings of $3 billion. If Wells is firing attorneys, how do you think things are looking for Citigroup’s in-house lawyers?
In-house lawyers, Above the Law is here for you too. We know that the view from the inside isn’t a whole lot brighter than the view from the law firms you’ve left behind.