I feel like I’ve stepped into a time machine that has taken me all the way back to 2009.

According to an internal memo obtained by Above the Law, the international law firm of Hogan Lovells is offering a voluntary separation program to U.S. staff. The memo, posted in full below, talks about needing to bring the firm’s support staff into alignment with overall firm needs.

The program is voluntary, but as we learned during the height of the recession, “voluntary” programs don’t always stay optional….

For Hogan support staff, here’s the most frightening part of the memo:

Regardless of how many attorney assistants and administrative assistants opt to participate in this voluntary program, we will not implement an involuntary layoff in 2011 in the U.S. of employees eligible to participate in this program, and no other group lay-offs currently are planned. (Consistent with our policy, individuals may be subject to termination for reasons relating to job performance, including attendance, etc.). We will continually monitor our staffing needs in 2012 and beyond and might implement voluntary or involuntary programs in future years if business needs make that necessary.

You know, all you can ask from your employer is that they behave transparently and honestly towards you. Here, to the firm’s credit, Hogan is telling people exactly where they stand: make your own choices about the program in 2011, or we might make them for you in 2012.

When firms are honest with their employees and give them fair warning, that gives people the dignity of being able to plan their own lives. And I’m sure Hogan Lovells staff will really appreciate this honesty from the firm and plan accordingly. I’m sure they’ll start that process just as soon as they finish cleaning their freshly soiled underwear.

Are other firms doing this? Is Ho-Love the only firm contemplating staff layoffs?

We thought the legal economy was slowly improving. If we’re wrong, please send in an email to tips@abovethelaw.com.


HOGAN LOVELLS — MEMORANDUM — VOLUNTARY SEPARATION PROGRAM

As part of our continuing effort to ensure that our level of secretarial and other support matches our business needs and to give eligible employees options concerning their employment status, the US LLP has decided to offer a Voluntary Separation Program to regular full-time and part-time employees who have been employed for at least three full years as of June 2, 2011 and who have worked since at least January 1, 2011 either (a) as an assistant (attorney assistant department) in the Firm’s Baltimore, Denver, Miami, New York, Northern Virginia, or Washington, D.C. offices; or (b) as an administrative assistant in the Firm’s Washington, D.C. office.

Regardless of how many attorney assistants and administrative assistants opt to participate in this voluntary program, we will not implement an involuntary layoff in 2011 in the U.S. of employees eligible to participate in this program, and no other group lay-offs currently are planned. (Consistent with our policy, individuals may be subject to termination for reasons relating to job performance, including attendance, etc.). We will continually monitor our staffing needs in 2012 and beyond and might implement voluntary or involuntary programs in future years if business needs make that necessary.

If based on our records you are eligible to participate in the Voluntary Separation Program, you should receive a packet of materials describing the Program today (or soon thereafter, if you are not in the your office today). If you believe you satisfy the eligibility criteria for the Program set forth above but do not receive such a packet by tomorrow, please contact me at [Redacted]

In general, an employee who opts to participate in the Program and who meets the Program’s other eligibility and participation criteria will voluntarily terminate employment with the US LLP effective July 22, 2011, and will receive separation pay. Eligibility and participation criteria, as well as other features of the Program, are described in the packets that are being provided to eligible employees. Participation in the Program is strictly voluntary, and eligible employees will have 46 days to decide whether to elect to participate in the Program.

Group information sessions to discuss the Voluntary Separation Program with eligible employees will be held in the Washington, D.C. office (with videoconferencing available for other relevant offices) on June 3, 2011 (from 2:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. EDT), June 8, 2011 (from 2:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. EDT), and June 17, 2011 (from 2:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. EDT).

Assistants and administrative assistants who are not eligible to participate in the Program, as well as those who are eligible but elect not to participate, may find that their assignments change as a result of the Program. Revised secretarial assistant and other assignments will be made as expeditiously as possible. Our Office Administrators, [Redacted], will work closely with assistants and attorneys as needed to facilitate a smooth transition.

We appreciate your cooperation throughout this process. If you have any questions concerning the Voluntary Separation Program, please contact me at [Redacted]. Thank you.


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