Biglaw, Midsize Firms / Regional Firms

Survivor’s Curse: Those Who Survived Layoffs Witness Hard Times

The Am Law MidLevel survey, released earlier this week, revealed what many already knew: the people who were able to hang onto their jobs during the recession are really unhappy.

Times are tough for the survivors, and today we have more evidence. An employee in the Dallas office of Sedgwick sent an open letter to the office managing partner, Alan Vickery, and others in management. The letter expresses massive disappointment with what has happened at the firm since the economy went south. It’s a familiar and sad story about those who are “lucky” enough to still have a legal job…

We start with a summary of everything bad that has happened:


I am writing this email to you as a concerned employee of Sedgwick here in Dallas. I would prefer not to identify myself, which is why I have chosen to use an anonymous email address. I have copied the people in the office leadership that I think would also benefit from reading this message. I hope that all of you receive this email in the spirit in which it was intended – one of disappointment, concern and earnest intent to help.

For the last several years (2 or 3, in my estimation), the partners here at Sedgwick Dallas have demonstrated what many here in the office consider to be a disappointing (even arrogant at times) lack of interest in the morale of the staff and non-partner attorneys. Many of my co-workers and I think the disinterest has been most glaring with respect to the more senior partners in the office, and your name has come up frequently. The widely held belief is that you think all of us should just be thankful we have jobs, and that we shouldn’t really concern ourselves with how we work together and relate to each other as people. For those who have worked here since the early days of the office, the last few years have seen a sad decline in the way the partners treat the rest of us. In the early going, the entire office believed there was a shared vision, a common goal, and a sense of family. That atmosphere no longer exists around the office. Now, many feel ignored and irrelevant.

If Sedgwick management wants a solution to employee unhappiness — which has already resulted in litigation of a scandalous nature, albeit involving a different office — the firm will need to take more than cosmetic measures, according to the letter writer:

Since this Spring – April to be precise, when [two lawyers] left the firm – the partners here at Sedgwick Dallas have suddenly started acting like they care again. As more attorneys left, you planned the outing at the baseball game and you’ve all been taking associates to lunch on a far more frequent basis. That apparently hasn’t avoided the departures of [four lawyers].

As someone who still enjoys being part of what is left of our Sedgwick Dallas “family”, I feel obligated to tell you that your efforts are viewed by a great many people in the office (attorneys and staff alike) as transparent and disingenuous. The baseball game – or something like it – is something that many around the office have wished you would do for a couple of years now, but you didn’t actually do anything about it until you worried that people might be unhappy working here. You waited too long, despite what some might tell you in person. And very few of the associates think you are now genuinely interested in how they are doing. They don’t relate to you at all, and they consider your lunch invitations to be a burden because you don’t really seem like you want to be there. If anything, they view it as an attempt to indoctrinate or gather intelligence – neither of which is appreciated. You simply cannot ignore the associates (let alone the special counsel and staff, who still do not seem to warrant much attention from you) for as long as you have – avoiding meetings to discuss the firm’s health, growth, etc. whenever possible – and then suddenly turn on the interest. If anything, you’re driving people away from you more now than ever before because your efforts are so clearly disingenuous and designed solely to stop the bleeding (if that’s even possible at this point).

I’m sure that by this point at least one person in Sedgwick’s management had this thought: “We should just fire all of them; the world needs plenty of bartenders.”

Still, the concerned employee tries to use whatever leverage he or she can muster:

You should know that I am aware of several employees (attorneys and staff included) who are actively looking for new employment. While the job market is not terribly strong right now, there are a number of people here at Sedgwick Dallas who will leave as soon as the opportunity presents itself. People no longer believe in this office they way they used to. And what you have failed to realize about people is that more than anything they want to feel like they matter – like they are truly appreciated. Because you have failed to express that sentiment in an honest way, you have lost a great many of us.

I don’t know if there is anything you can do now to reverse the effects of the last few years. As I have said, many view your recent efforts as simply exacerbating the problem. However, if there is any real hope of improving the morale of the office I thought you ought to know what nobody will say directly to you.

Good luck. It’s not an easy job you’ve got.


Concerned in Dallas

People might want to feel like they matter, but they don’t. Not really. Not at Sedgwick, even if they bill 3000 hours, and not at most firms. There’s an oversupply of lawyers, so a firm like Sedgwick can effectively treat its people however it wants. If people don’t like it, they can quit, but three more associates will rise to take their place.

It’s going to be hard for Sedgwick to win back the trust of their employees, but it’ll probably be easy for Sedgwick to replace their current employees with new ones.

P.S. If you have grievances you’d like to air about your current or former firm, feel free to drop us a line.

Earlier: The Am Law Mid-Level Survey Is Out: And (Surprise) Mid-Levels Are Still Unhappy
Lawsuit of the Day: Sex, Drugs, and 3000 Billable Hours
Update: Sex, Drugs, and 3000 Billable Hours

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