Law Shucks, Layoffs

This Week in Layoffs: 03.07.10

pink slip layoff notice Above the Law blog.jpgEd. note: Above the Law has teamed up with Law Shucks, which has done excellent work translating all of the layoff news into user-friendly charts and graphs: the Layoff Tracker.
First-time jobless claims dropped last week, and the overall unemployment rate (U-3) held steady at 9.7% in February.
But you won’t call that "good news" if you know what’s good for you.
Ross Todd at the American Lawyer spared us some typing:

The news for the legal services sector is one of the more hopeful signs of late. Only 100 jobs were lost in the legal sector in February, the second month in a row that has seen a substantial drop-off in job losses. According to seasonally adjusted BLS data, the legal sector lost 1,100 jobs in January compared to 2,100 in December, 2,900 in November, and 5,800 in October. Since February of last year, the sector has shed 37,100 positions.

Coincidentally, that lines up very closely with the 110 jobs we reported lost from major law firms in "The Month in Layoffs" for February. (BLS reports net numbers, we’re just tallying layoffs at major firms).
But layoffs aren’t firms’ only costcutting measure, and in fact they seem to be falling out of favor quickly. After the jump, what the firms have been up to this week.

First off, we’re happy to note that no layoffs have been reported for the second week in a row. That hasn’t happened since the December holidays.
This is no time to start feeling all secure and go crazy, though. As Hiring Partner just wrote, it’s still important to cover your ass.
One reason for fewer layoffs going forward is simply that hiring is falling off a cliff. People who summered in 2008 got offers at almost a 90% clip. Last summer, the rate dropped below 70%. Of course, those ’08 summers were the ’09 grads who had their offers rescinded or their start dates deferred, so it’s kind of a pick-your-poison situation. Get screwed early or get screwed late, either way, both classes got screwed.
Not that it’s likely to matter to the recent graduates and junior associates, but corporate law departments are supposedly getting ready to hire. Even that is bad news for firms, though, because it’s part of an effort to reduce spend by reducing reliance on outside counsel.
For firms that have already laid off staff and associates, lowered salaries, reduced bonuses, and curtailed hiring, what’s left when clients won’t accept rate hikes? Cutting partners, at least according to Hildebrandt and Citi.
Even among the gainfully employed, "morale is very low" at Reed Smith, where they’ve just announced salaries for 2010 and the effects of leaving lockstep are finally hitting wallets and purses. Is it finally settling in? Not all of you are in the top 10%? For that matter, not all of you are not even in the top half.
OK, maybe it’s a little early for that, but we are curious to see how the averages in non-lockstep firm compare to their lockstep counterparts. We’re firmly in the camp of not using abandoning lockstep as cover for salary cuts.
That’s nothing compared to the dissension being sown by two members of the most recent summer class at Mayer Brown. Ahh spring is just around the corner and we have green shoots of thoughts turning to collective action. Part of the problem with the misery of 2009 was that we missed out on the perennial cries for unionization of BigLaw associates. Perhaps the summers and law students can lead the way?
Frankly, this is just an opportunity to use a quote from a previous round of Marxist agitating:

I can just see it now as an associate in an Armani suit holds up a sign reading Union in the middle of the law firm cafeteria . . . and is carried away screaming by security thugs.

Well said, Prof. Secunda.
Amazingly, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern seem to have gotten what they wanted – word came from the firm that Mayer Brown has been prodded into realizing that they’re six months overdue in making a decision and has just now begun to contemplate the situation.
Is there something about Chicago that is retarding the decisionmaking process? Katten Muchin hasn’t set salaries yet, despite indicating back in January that it would be done by March 1. Maybe KMZ lawyers are better off waiting. Just a few weeks ago we wrote about rampant jealousy in the Second City.
They haven’t changed, but the running tallies for the week, month, and year are available in the conclusion of the article on Law Shucks.

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