Since the recession began hitting the legal industry, we at Above the Law have received various reports alleging gender or racial discrimination when it comes time for firms to fire associates. Some of our sources have claimed that the rounds of layoffs have disproportionately affect women or racial minorities. Usually, these sources have sparse statistical evidence to back up their claims.
Conversely, other sources have claimed that the layoffs are disproportionately affecting white males. They claim that firms are loath to fire women or minorities, for fear of employment discrimination lawsuits. Again, these sources lack numbers to support their fears.
Well, this week we received some hard data.
In April we reported that Squire Sanders laid off around 30 associates. The final official number of layoffs turned out to be 32 attorneys. But of those 32 attorneys, 20 of them were women. It’s surprising to see 62.5% of firm layoffs affect women.
Did the Squire Sanders layoffs have a disparate impact on women? Of course, numbers don’t tell the full story. And Squire Sanders has some numbers of its own that helps to explain this situation.
Check out the details after the jump.
In a statement to Above the Law, Squire Sanders admitted that 20 female attorneys were let go during the firm’s last round of layoffs:
Regrettably, economic conditions required many law firms to engage in layoffs of attorneys and support staff personnel. Squire Sanders, like other similar firms, has experienced a decline in client service demand especially in transactional areas. When we determined that we needed to bring our staffing better in line with service demand, we carefully considered a number of factors and looked to practice and office leaders to identify the persons who might be affected. Before we acted we were well aware that 20 of the 32 attorneys to be laid off were female. We reviewed that unfortunate result to insure that gender did not influence that outcome; it did not.
But instead of just claiming that gender wasn’t a factor in the layoffs, Squire Sanders also offered statistics to make its case:
Let’s get a little bit behind those numbers. 21 of the 32 laid off were practicing in our transactional areas of corporate/corporate finance, real estate, and public finance. Of the 32 people let go, 28 had 3 or less years of service with our firm. In the states over the past 3 years, women made up 65%, 50% and 45% of our fall associate classes. More than half of those new attorneys were assigned to transactional areas, in nearly every case to match the attorney’s preference. Because those were the slowest practices, and because a larger percentage of our new attorneys were women who elected to be in transactional practices, the majority, 62%, of those let go happened to be female. We are not happy that we had to release any attorney and are not happy that the numbers appear as they do. Still we were careful in our process and remain convinced that the higher proportion of women attorneys affected did not reflect any bias but rather was the result of our decision to lay off more junior lawyers and the fact that well over half of our more recent law school hires have been women.
Regardless of what happened at Squire Sanders, do you think that layoffs are disproportionately affecting women and minorities? What is going on at your firm? Feel free to respond in the comments, or to send us a tip.
Earlier: Nationwide Layoff/Salary Cut Watch: Don’t Listen to that Voice Mail from Squire Sanders
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