Biglaw, Cold Offers, Layoffs, NALP, National Association for Law Placement (NALP), No Offers, Summer Associates

Nationwide Layoff and No-Offer Watch: In Defense of Winston & Strawn

Don’t look so sad; it is possible to bounce back from a career setback.

Last week we covered news of associate layoffs and summer associate no-offers over at Winston & Strawn. We heard primarily from sources who were upset over the news, and because the firm declined to comment on personnel matters, we didn’t hear Winston’s side of the story. But now, thanks to some helpful sources, we have a few pro-Winston comments that we will now share.

First, the number of “stealth layoff” victims may have been overstated. According to word on the street among Chicago associates, “while some people were let go, 30 seems pretty high.”

Second, it seems the layoffs were focused in Chicago; other offices may have escaped relatively unscathed. According to a source in Winston’s New York office, “nobody has heard about layoffs” there.

Third, the changes to the timing of associate reviews — which were viewed by some as ominous, perhaps laying the groundwork for additional cuts — may actually be quite innocent. Said a source: “The review cycle was also moved forward for some classes and back for others, but it is part of a general re-vamp of the evaluation process, and I’m not convinced there are any sinister motives behind it.”

Fourth, although the firm’s Chicago office doled out a relatively high number of no-offers — about 10 out of 30 summer associates did not get offers of permanent employment — we hear that this was primarily a Chicago phenomenon. As noted by a commenter, “The offer percentages are, to the best of my knowledge, significantly higher in the other offices.”

Of course, after our story we also received additional criticism of Winston, to which we now turn….

Please note the addition of multiple UPDATES, after the jump.

On to the negative reports from our sources. We’ll start with matters relating to lawyers already at the firm, then turn to the summer associate program.

First, even if the recent layoffs were focused in Chicago, there’s no guarantee that they won’t spread. For example, some associates in the New York office of Winston are expecting layoffs in litigation this fall — perhaps to “right-size” the firm after the influx of litigators from now-bankrupt Dewey & LeBoeuf.

UPDATE (3:00 PM): Actually, it seems that layoffs have already taken place in other offices. “Re: Winston layoffs in New York, stealth layoffs in October 2011 (6+), and spring/summer 2012 in NY. Not just Chicago.”

Second, as we discussed in our prior post, layoffs are not new at Winston. From a victim of the Winston reductions:

I was a member of the litigation department in the Chicago office and was laid off [earlier this year]. There were stealth layoffs in both November of last year and March of this year….

I was able to get work for [my first few months at the firm], but in January of 2011, the firm began bringing in excessive amounts of new associates that they did not have work for. Absolutely no effort was made to distribute work to effectively “utilize” associates. As your prior tipster stated, the firm completely and unapologetically screwed the June and October starters in the class of 2009.

As usual, the way Winston has gone about this is shameful. They have laid the blame on new associates for having “poor utilization rates” and are unwilling to take responsibility for their poor planning. They have, no doubt, ruined a number of new attorneys’ legal careers in order to maximize partner profits and avoid publicly acknowledging that the firm is having difficulties bringing in business.

In addition to the involuntary resignations, people have voluntarily been leaving like rats on a sinking ship. Frankly, I’m glad to get off that crazy train.

Third, some lawyers at the firm have concerns about management. Here is what one of them, a lawyer who is actively pursuing exit opportunities, told us (we have paraphrased in parts at this source’s request):

The top managers in Chicago are morons. [Managing partner] Tom Fitzgerald, surrounded by “yes” men, has made terrible business decisions that are ruining the firm’s morale and culture. Fitzgerald is completely Chicago-centric — he doesn’t care about any of the satellite offices. All he cares about is Chicago.

Here is some corroboration of this point, from a commenter: “The surprise is NOT that W&S is dumping large numbers of people, stealthily, and no-offering summers. The surprise is that they’re doing it in CHICAGO. The W&S creed clearly states that the mother ship is perfect, and would soar with the eagles if it weren’t being held down by the turkeys in the branch offices.”

Back to our satellite-office source:

Firm management claims that it’s not their fault for failing to bring in enough work to give associates the hours (a good point which you made in your post). But then they are out there scooping up people from Howrey and Dewey and focusing entirely on lateral partners for business development, while throwing their homegrown people under the bus.

There’s no loyalty any more. Winston is like any other Biglaw firm now: a brief stopping point for nomadic partners and practice groups who suck money out like locusts, only to move on to another firm within one to four years, taking their clients with them.

It’s sad, very sad. All the good people I have worked with have left in the last few years, either voluntarily or involuntarily. The sheer number of good partners who have left [this office] in the last couple years is mind-blowing.

So that’s the news for associates and partners. Let’s now turn to the recently departed summer associates….

(hidden for your protection)

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