Biglaw, Bonuses, Layoffs, Money, Secretaries / Administrative Assistants, Staff Layoffs, Supreme Court Clerks

Nationwide Layoff Watch: Days Are Numbered for Some at Jones Day

For Supreme Court clerks from October Term 2011, the historic Term of NFIB v. Sebelius (aka “Obamacare”), the hot firm to go to was Jones Day. As Tony Mauro recently reported, the firm hired six SCOTUS clerks from the OT 2011 class, which “may be the most clerks signed up by a single firm from a single term” (although Ted Frank suggests that Kirkland & Ellis might have had seven clerks back in 1995).

UPDATE (3/17/2013, 1 p.m.): Per Mauro, K&E has never had six or seven clerks from a single Term.

Leading litigatrix Beth Heifetz — a former SCOTUS clerk herself (OT 1985 / Blackmun), and a Tina Fey doppelgänger — confirmed that Jones Day paid the going rate in terms of SCOTUS clerkship bonuses: $280,000 (on top of the usual base salary and year-end bonus). One of the new hires, Rachel Bloomekatz, is joining JD’s office in Columbus, Ohio. She should be able to survive out there on half a million (the SCOTUS clerkship bonus plus a fifth-year associate’s salary; she’s a 2008 UCLA Law grad).

But what if you’re in the Columbus office and not a SCOTUS clerk? Don’t expect to be shown the money; instead, you might be shown the door….

We’ve recently received reports of staff layoffs in the Columbus office. We’re hearing that 14 staffers are being laid off — or “separated,” in Jones Day parlance — and another is leaving voluntarily. The affected individuals include legal secretaries and personnel from catering/food services, docketing, accounting, and word processing. A source reports:

It is heavily rumored within the local legal community that the JD Columbus office is not doing well….

[Fourteen employees is] a high number to be losing given this office’s size and prior staff layoffs resulting in an already very lean staff pool. The Columbus office has been Jones Day’s pilot or pioneer office for such events in the past; therefore this may just be the start.

If you know of any layoffs in any other Jones Day office — or, for that matter, layoffs at any other major law firm — please let us know. We reached out to the firm for comment, both yesterday and today, but did not receive a response.

The six SCOTUS clerks bound for Jones Day will receive, in bonus money alone (not counting salaries or benefits), about $1.7 million. The 14 staffers will receive pink slips.

Now, please don’t get me wrong — I’m not some kind of crazy populist or radical leftist. As I’ve written in a New York Times op-ed piece, I believe that huge bonuses for Supreme Court clerks are a good thing for the legal profession.

But it’s fair to say that recent developments at Jones Day reflect what’s happening, for better or worse, in the U.S. economy as a whole. Those with the most-enhanced human capital are reaping a bigger share of the rewards, while those with less-enhanced human capital — e.g., people whose work can be performed by technology, or sent to less expensive parts of the country, or sent overseas — face reduced compensation and employment opportunities.

It’s not clear what, if anything, should be done about this. The trend in favor of bigger rewards for the most skilled workers is extremely powerful — and probably going to grow rather than wane in the coming years. One can try to use “progressive” taxation to redistribute wealth away from Supreme Court clerks and towards support staffers. But I can’t help wondering if, as David Brooks recently wrote, that’s as useful as “shooting a water gun into a waterfall.”

Jones Day lands 6 high court clerks [National Law Journal]
Jones Day’s sixth U.S. Supreme Court clerk hire from 2011-2012 term will join Columbus Office [Jones Day (press release)]

Earlier: Supreme Court Clerk Bonuses Are Heading Higher

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