Biglaw, Layoffs, Secretaries / Administrative Assistants, Staff Layoffs

Nationwide Layoff Watch: Voluntary Departures at Latham

In round one of our Above the Law March Madness bracket, aimed at finding the law firm with the brightest future, Davis Polk is up against (and currently beating) Latham & Watkins. I actually found that to be a pretty rough opening match-up; both Davis and Latham strike me as firms that should be in the Sweet 16, and maybe even the Elite Eight.

Thanks to its top talent, superb brand, and global footprint, Latham has a bright future as a firm. Of course, working there can be like riding a roller-coaster: it expands like crazy and mints money during good times, then conducts massive layoffs during bad times. But if you can stomach the ups and downs, LW can be a great place to work.

Alas, not everyone at the firm will get to keep working there….

Is Lathaming1 about to return to Latham? A tipster tells us:

In March 2013, Latham & Watkins asked secretaries in their Los Angeles Office to voluntarily resign or there would be layoffs. They offered a severance package and made it clear that if they did not volunteer, the severence package for layoffs would be less. [Several secretaries] stepped up and resigned.

We’ve heard that Latham offered a voluntary severance program to all its secretaries in L.A., and somewhere between seven and eleven secretaries took the deal. Hopefully that will be enough to avert further reductions. Given the possibility of layoffs, one can question how “voluntary” it all was. Cf. the Argentine bondholder litigation (“We would not voluntarily obey such an order.”).

The issues aren’t just in L.A., according to this source:

As is evident in the New York office, under the new global Human Resources Manager, Joshua Friedlander, experienced, dedicated, loyal employees are no longer valued or cultivated. In the past two years, only young, inexperienced college graduates have been hired. Two more hirings are taking place in April and June 2013 where only young college graduates are invited as candidates. This is something boasted about among the firm. The candidates are trained by the experienced employees, then the experienced employees are discarded. This is the new culture among many large law firms who met with consultants a few years ago and changed the trend.

To be honest, this actually sounds interesting to me. Is Latham moving away from the “career secretary” model and towards a “paralegal” paradigm — i.e., hiring smart young college graduates who work for a few years and then move on? It might not be a bad idea from a human resources perspective. In the current labor market, you can hire smart, motivated, tech-savvy graduates of good colleges for not that much money. In fact, you can probably get two such college grads for the cost of one traditional, career legal secretary.

But if you’re a career legal secretary, perhaps on the older side, you are understandably not thrilled:

Based on statements made in the firm’s monthly newsletter, The Record, by Josh Friedlander, experience is not necessary to work at Latham & Watkins. What matters is your degree…. They have not hired anyone over 40 in over two years in the Secretarial Department.

As you can tell from our recent coverage of staff layoffs, times are tough for legal secretaries. They are getting spanked — figuratively by the labor market, and perhaps literally as well.

We reached out to Latham. The firm declined to comment on personnel matters.

If you get Lathamed around Easter, will you rise again? Let’s hope the answer is yes.

Earlier: Nationwide Layoff Watch: Latham Cuts 440 (190 Associates, 250 Staff)
How Did Latham Become the Poster Child for Layoffs?
Law Firm Partner Allegedly Threatened to Whip Secretary for Being a ‘Bad Girl’

  1. Yes, “Latham” entered Urban Dictionary as a verb in 2009.
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