In our last post about Winston & Strawn, we covered an “all associates” meeting at which the firm admitted conducting layoffs, but refused to divulge information about their scope. The firm said something along these lines: “Out of respect for the individuals involved, we won’t publicly disclose either future layoffs or past layoff numbers.”
Several commenters questioned that rationale. See, e.g., here:
WTF does that mean?! Are they dead [so] that W&S doesn’t want to speak (ill) of them?
I think I’ll try injecting that into my daily life. “Out of respect for the individuals involved, I won’t publicly disclose either future sexual affairs or past mistress numbers.” I like that… think it’ll work?
Commenters also requested estimates of the size of Winston’s layoffs.
We don’t have hard data ourselves. But we estimate — conservatively, we think — that Winston & Strawn has laid off at least 15 percent of its lawyers in 2009 to date.
So, how did we reach this number?
There is, admittedly, quite a bit of guesswork here. But perhaps some of our readers, especially those who work at Winston, can help us out. Let’s explore the methodology.
Some commenters had the idea of comparing Winston’s headcount as reported to NALP, as of February 1, 2009, to the headcount currently reflected on its firm website. (This methodology was also used recently over at AutoAdmit, by a poster who applied it to the Vault 25.) While we recognize the limitations of relying on website data for calculating layoffs, it can be helpful when there’s not much else to go on.
We did an analysis for six of Winston’s seven domestic offices — we didn’t see NALP data for the Newark office, which has just three lawyers anyway — and got the following figures. We haven’t double-checked them; if you see errors, of either transcription or calculation, please email us (subject line: “Winston and Strawn”), so we can fix.
NALP DATA (as of February 1, 2009):
Charlotte: 10 partners; 18 non-partners (14 associates, 4 other)
Chicago: 194 partners; 298 non-partners (277 associates, 21 other)
Los Angeles: 30 partners; 52 non-partners (52 associates)
New York: 77 partners; 133 non-partners (120 associates, 13 other)
San Francisco: 40 partners; 60 non-partners (57 associates, 3 other)
Washington: 65 partners; 74 non-partners (63 associates, 11 other)
TOTAL: 416 partners; 635 non-partners (583 associates, 52 other); 1,051 total lawyers
WINSTON WEBSITE DATA (as of October 15, 2009):
Charlotte: 12 partners; 14 non-partners (11 associates, 3 of counsel)
Chicago: 180 partners; 209 non-partners (193 associates, 9 of counsel, 1 senior attorney, 6 staff attorneys)
Los Angeles: 25 partners, 30 non-partners(30 associates)
New York: 72 partners, 81 non-partners (76 associates, 4 senior attorneys, 1 staff attorney)
San Francisco: 40 partners, 41 non-partners (39 associates, 1 of counsel, 1 senior attorney)
Washington: 60 partners, 65 non-partners (57 associates, 7 of counsel, 1 staff attorney)
TOTAL: 389 partners; 440 non-partners (406 associates, 34 other); 829 lawyers
DECREASES IN WINSTON HEADCOUNT (between February 1 and October 15, 2009):
Partners: 7 percent
Associates: 30 percent
Other non-partner lawyers: 35 percent
Associates and other non-partner lawyers: 31 percent
ALL LAWYERS: 21 PERCENT
Of course, there are various caveats and qualifiers (which send the estimated number of layoffs in different directions):
1. This may not be a true “apples to apples” comparison. For example, some lawyers might be counted for NALP purposes but not appear on the Winston website (e.g., a junior associate not yet admitted / admission pending, or a lateral associate who switched jurisdictions).
(It should be noted, however, that since Winston has deferred its incoming 2009 associates to January 2010, there can’t be that many people in this category.)
2. These are net numbers. Winston has also added a fair number of lawyers during this period, including some impressive lateral partners, as one can see from scanning their press releases. So if it has shed 27 partners on a net basis since February, but picked up a whole bunch of lateral partners over the same period, the number of partners who were laid off or asked to leave might be higher than 27 (although see caveat #3 below).
3. It can’t be assumed that all of these departures are involuntary. People continue to leave law firms voluntarily (although in reduced numbers, at least at the associate level). Partners might defect to other firms, or retire.
4. Another caveat that should be considered with law firm website number crunching in general, noted over on AutoAdmit, is that some associates vanish from the associate of the ledger because they were promoted to partner. But that doesn’t really apply here because Winston names new partners in December (presumably effective in January, or at least before February 1, when the NALP figures were calculated).
The baseline number here is the 21 percent decrease in total Winston headcount (partners and non-partners). Let’s assume — somewhat arbitrarily, we admit (this ain’t a McKinsey case study) — that the caveats, net-net, explain away a quarter of the decrease. That still yields up a layoff percentage of 15 percent.
How does 15 percent stack up compared to other law firms? It would put Winston somewhere in the top five firms of the Am Law 200 in terms of the percentage of lawyers laid off (calculated as of October 15). This dubious distinction might explain Winston’s extreme aversion to disclosing numbers.
What if we construe the numbers even more charitably, and slash the baseline number of 21 percent in half? That produces a 10.5 percent haircut, still good enough to land Winston in seventh place on the Am Law Layoff List (#7 out of 200).
So what have we missed? Are these numbers too high, or too low? Are there other calculation caveats to consider? We’re just tossing these figures out as a starting point. Let the conversation begin.
The NALP directory lists law firm information as of February 1, 2009 [AutoAdmit]
The Layoff List: By the Numbers [American Lawyer]
Earlier: Update: Mystery Meeting at Winston & Strawn