Biglaw, Layoffs, Partner Issues, Staff Layoffs

Nationwide Layoff Watch: And Then They Came For Management

Sorry, the Layoff Lady hasn’t gone away.

Sorry, folks — we couldn’t make it two full weeks without a story about law firm layoffs. We continue to hear reports about them, which we publish as we get sufficient corroboration for each one. If you have information to share, please email us or text us (646-820-8477; texts only, not a voice line).

Thus far, layoffs have hit support staff the hardest. Junior staffers often bear the brunt, since some of the layoffs are seniority-based.

But senior people, including law firm management, are not immune to the cuts. One law firm recently laid off two executives, along with about twenty staffers…

Here’s a report from Thomson Reuters News & Insight, entitled Orrick Lays Off Executives:

Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe has laid off two of its 14-member executive staff to rein in costs, according to sources inside and outside the firm.

Orrick Chairman Mitch Zuklie said in an interview on Thursday that the San Francisco-based firm had eliminated the positions of its human resources officer and its knowledge management officer, who supervises the sharing of casework between lawyers.

“A thinner, more nimble management team is an objective of mine,” said Zuklie, who took the helm of the 1,100-lawyer firm in March.

As we noted about Zuklie when he was announced as chairman, he’s a transactional lawyer in Silicon Valley who works with many technology clients. Perhaps he’s picked up the startup world’s commitment to lean staffing.

Casey Sullivan of Thomson Reuters adds this observation about why the cuts are notable:

The layoffs are significant because, unlike many firms that use internal lawyers to run the firm, Orrick is known for hiring executives to manage its business. None of Orrick’s executive staff practice law and, with the layoffs, their responsibilities have been consolidated.

The latest moves come after Orrick’s former chairman Ralph Baxter paid hundreds of thousands of dollars for executives individually despite criticism from partners that the jobs did not warrant that level of compensation, former Orrick partners and other sources said.

That’s the name of the game in Biglaw these days: not paying people unless they absolutely warrant it. According to Thomson Reuters, the laid-off executives were Human Resources Officer Gera Vaz and Chief Knowledge Officer Peter Krakaur. In addition, Chief Operating Officer Reid Horovitz is leaving Orrick, as he has been planning to do since last fall, and may or may not be replaced.

Of course, if high-ranking non-lawyers are getting laid off, staffers farther down on the totem pole are getting hit too:

Earlier this week, the firm announced internally that it also had laid off 21 non-secretarial staff members and relocated 11 other staff to a lower-rent back office in Wheeling, West Virginia, according to a copy of an email that was reviewed by Reuters.

In case you’re wondering, no, the shipping of workers to West Virginia is not a nefarious plot to build support for Ralph Baxter’s Senate campaign. The former Orrick chair recently decided against running for outgoing Senator Jay Rockefeller’s seat.

Good luck to the laid-off Orrick employees, as well as the relocated staffers. On the bright side, West Virginia is beautiful this time of year.

Large law firm Orrick lays off executives [Thomson Reuters News & Insight]

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