Here on Above the Law, we have extensively covered layoffs caused by the shrinking economy. We’ve also covered stealth layoffs. And we’ve covered performance review layoffs that have been done out in the open.
But at WilmerHale it looks like we are seeing an example of this: economically induced performance reviews resulting in stealth messages that require people to openly leave the firm.
Say that ten times fast. A tipster reports:
I know of [several] associates and counsel that have been laid off at Wilmer in the past week. Many of the associates are 2-4 years, but the lay-offs reach up to the 6 year level. All of them were let go for “performance” reasons – but everyone that I’ve talked to has had nearly perfect evaluations….
The not so subtle indication we are getting from the firm is to tread lightly – find something else and leave quietly, and if [people] do that, they will get help, resources, support and references. I imagine the flipside of that is [squeaky wheels] will get a performance based dismissal to hang over their heads. … People are just too scared to say anything in this economy. Of course, there is always the shame of thinking you’ve been let go for “performance” reasons that will keep people quiet as well.
As we understand it, these cuts have taken place in Washington D.C. and Boston.
After the jump, WilmerHale tells us that there have been no “layoffs.”
A WilmerHale spokesperson was very clear that there have been no layoffs at the firm:
We have done no layoffs and we have no layoffs planned. Unlike many of the firms that have conducted layoffs, we did not go into the recession with highly leveraged practices that suddenly collapsed.
But whatever is going on at WilmerHale, the economy is playing a large role.
That said, many of our clients have been adversely affected by the recession and we therefore have seen a decline in demand for legal services in some practice areas. This does have consequences for how we manage attorneys, and economic considerations and demand for services do affect the career guidance we give lawyers, but we have not conducted layoffs and have no plans to do so.
And here comes the oxymoronic “openly stealth, non-layoffs, layoffs” part:
What you may have heard also is that we have, over the past two years, developed a career advancement program, which is intended to give more meaningful career guidance to our associates, senior associates and counsel. As that program is implemented and mentors meet with associates and counsel, career messages are given which may lead over time to departures.
Obviously, our tipsters are getting the message that they have to depart the firm.
The WilmerHale statement concludes with:
The firm will continue to monitor economic conditions and client needs. As you may know, we have reviewed our budget and tightened it further, delayed the incoming associate start dates and created a deferral program, and we are not doing a significant amount of lateral hiring at this time. Performance reviews will continue to be held twice a year, during the spring and fall.
Despite the clarity of the WilmerHale response, there are lingering questions about WilmerHale’s career messages. Above the Law has received conflicting reports about the amount of time WilmerHale associates have to find new jobs. Some people tell us they’ve been given two months, other people claim they have three.
We asked WilmerHale to clarify the notice or severance given to associates. A spokesperson said:
There is no one answer to this question because unlike a layoff, with bi-annual performance reviews messages to those who will need to transition out of the firm are individualized.
Regardless of what you want to call it, there are current WilmerHale associates who probably won’t be there by the end of the summer. It’s a tough message to receive in this economy. Good luck.
Earlier: Prior ATL coverage of law firm layoffs
Nationwide Start Date Watch: Winston & Strawn, WilmerHale, Baker & McKenzie, and Sonnenschein Delay Start Dates