Law Shucks, Layoffs

This Week in Layoffs: 03.14.10

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.

National jobless news seems to be business as usual. First-time jobless claims fell by 6,000 last week to 462,000.

That contributed to a net gain of 37,000, to 4.56 million people included in the "continuing claims" total. Above those receiving regular benefits, there are also 5.69 million people receiving extended benefits, an increase of about 175,000 for the week.

That becomes particularly relevant, because the Senate voted 62-36 to extend benefits (both unemployment insurance and health-insurance premium subsidies) through the end of the year. Traditionally, benefits lasted up to 26 weeks; under the new law, some people will receive up to 99 weeks’ benefits. Republicans made noise about adding $140 billion to the $12.5 trillion deficit, but were pretty much powerless to stop it.

Layoff news in the law-firm sector was not nearly so good this week. Details after the jump.

After more than two weeks without a layoff, three firms laid people off this week, as many as had reported layoffs in all of February.

The big news for the week was Howrey, which will be losing 10% of its partnership. The firm also laid off a large number of associates and staff last month.

Howrey posted a 35% drop in partner profits during 2009, falling from $1.3m (£876,000) in 2008 to $846,000 (£564,000) last year. Revenues also saw a double digit dip, dropping 16% from $573m (£382m) to $480m (£320m) in 2009.

Robert Ruyak, Howrey’s managing partner and chief executive, said: “After an internal assessment we decided that we need to tighten up and be strong by focusing on our core areas. We added a number of partners laterally during the last part of 2009 and thus far in 2010, while a similar number are departing for firms and practices that should be a better fit for them. We do not expect the partnership to be substantially different in size by the end of the year to what it is now.”

This is an interesting one. Ruyak is saying that the firm is cutting entire practices in an effort to return to its focus as a litigation-only shop. Patent and trademark prosecution, environmental, and insurance recovery are all on their way out.

Less forthright was McDermott Will & Emery, which has been accused of the vile practice of stealth layoffs. Frankly, we’re surprised that there aren’t more reports of stealth layoffs these days.

We made the decision last year not to include firm dissolutions as layoffs, so Darby & Darby’s breakup doesn’t count in the totals (neither do Thelen’s, Heller Ehrman’s or any of the other recently departeds’). Still, that puts the IP boutique’s 62 lawyers (19 of which are partners) and more than 100 staff out of work.

In non-layoff news, Katten Muchin was chided last week for not providing timely salary information. This week, they’re getting berated for the actual salary information they finally got around to providing. To be fair, a lot of the complaining is around the firm’s process and the lack of visibility associates had into the decisionmaking, rather than the salary cuts themselves.

Sonnenschein also took its time getting compensation information out. The firm is going back to $160k base for first years, but 12-15% of that will be retained and paid out as a "base bonus" in 2011 as the firm transitions to a more performance-based structure.

King & Spalding lawyers got slightly better news for their long wait. The firm paid bonuses, although the vague reference to the "2008 scale" wasn’t helpful. We added them to the Law Shuck Bonus Tracker, but numbers from back then are hard to find (part of the reason we started the tracker in the first place). On the salary side, it’s the same small-market blues that Chicago lawyers were suffering through a few weeks ago. There’s always that one local firm that is supposed to be a peer but outdoes your firm. Down in Atlanta, that means Alston & Bird, which pays a few thousand dollars more in most classes.

Of course, having a job at all is a nice thing these days, and the graduating class of 2010 is waiting with bated breath to find out when they’ll start (warning: link is to ATL comments, although they’re not particularly bad in this case). Nothing too surprising right now, with dates reportedly ranging from on time (Sep/Oct ’10) at firms like Sullivan & Cromwell and Cleary, to Jan ’11 at Milbank and Sidley.

In news that we found absolutely not surprising at all, there’s a culture gap between deferred associates doing public-interest work, and those who do it as a career. As far as we’re concerned, it’s further proof that this guy hasn’t a clue.

And while we’re at it, don’t be like this guy, either.

Just do what Hiring Partner says: accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative.

The running tallies for the week, month, and year in the conclusion of the article on Law Shucks.

(hidden for your protection)

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