Biglaw, Job Searches, Layoffs, Secretaries / Administrative Assistants, Staff Layoffs

Nationwide Layoff Watch: Several Secretaries Sent Packing

Are legal secretaries the buggy-whip makers of Biglaw? If you lose your job as a legal secretary, is it worth it trying to find a new secretarial position, or should you get new training and try to switch fields?

The latter option might be better, at least if you are still early enough in your career. Check out this interesting (but depressing) article from the Wall Street Journal, Why Legal Secretaries Can’t Find Jobs. One of the secretaries mentioned in the article is still looking for a new permanent position some four years after he was Lathamed.

And, sadly, the layoffs of legal secretaries show no sign of abating. On the heels of the Weil Gotshal layoffs — in which 60 associates and 110 staffers, including 60 legal secretaries, lost their jobs — we have more cuts to report….

(Note the UPDATE after the jump.)

Details are sparse right now, but we understand that approximately 16 secretaries and other support staffers were laid off yesterday from the Chicago office of Winston & Strawn. We reached out to Winston for comment; the firm has not gotten back to us, but it generally does not comment on departures. (If Winston does comment or if we obtain more details about the layoffs, we will update.)

UPDATE (5:00 p.m.): A second source claims that 15 people were laid off, 13 of them secretaries. In prior reductions, severance amounted to one month’s pay for every year worked, but it’s not clear if that approach was taken here.

If it’s any consolation to the staffers laid off yesterday, lawyers at Winston have been losing their jobs for quite some time. We covered their stealth layoffs — which turned out to be not so stealthy, due to the sheer numbers involved — back in August 2012. As a result of such cuts, Am Law Daily reported as follows in March 2013:

Winston’s overall attorney head count fell from 928 to 842 in 2012. While most of the losses came in the associate ranks, the number of nonequity partners also decreased 6.7 percent, from 195 to 182. The equity partnership remained static at 178, though there was a lot of movement in and out of the firm along the way….

[Managing partner Thomas] Fitzgerald says the drop in the associate ranks was the product of several factors. While insisting that Winston did not make layoffs, he says many first- and second-year associates left the firm “because of reduced demand for junior lawyers.” (He declined to provide a precise number.)

So the firm did not conduct layoffs. Does that mean lawyers just starting out in their legal careers, with hardly any experience under their belts, left the firm voluntarily? Not a ringing endorsement of Winston as a workplace. Anyway, back to Am Law:

“Like many law firms, our clients did not use first- and second-year associates to the extent they have in the past,” Fitzgerald says. Winston also offered fewer 2011 summer associates full-time first-year associate positions in 2012 than it has in the past. The firm has traditionally offered positions to about 90 percent of its summer associates, Fitzgerald says. Last year, the proportion of summers receiving offers slid to about 75 percent. The trend is set to continue, as Winston will be taking on far fewer new first-year associates in 2013.

As you may recall, we covered the high no-offer rate at Winston last year as well. If you’re a rising 2L drawing up your list of firms to apply to for summer associate positions, you should consider Winston with an awareness of these realities.

Despite its issues, Winston is still a great firm with some great attorneys, whose ranks continue to expand. Earlier this month, Winston picked up star criminal defense lawyer Gerald Shargel; last year, it hired Jeffrey Kessler, the noted sports litigator who fled Dewey with his team.

As the old saying goes, beggars can’t be choosers; if you can land any job, at any major law firm, you should thank your lucky stars. Biglaw is getting smaller by the day, so get in while you still can. You’ll have plenty of time to figure out what to do next — maybe even more time than you might want. Just ask the buggy-whip makers.

Buggy Whips Not The Perfect Analogy Of Businesses Disrupted By Innovation? [TechDirt]
Why Legal Secretaries Can’t Find Jobs [Wall Street Journal (sub. req.)]
At Winston, Revenue Flattens as Attorney Ranks Thin [Am Law Daily]

Earlier: Nationwide Layoff and No-Offer Watch: Winston & Strawn
Musical Chairs: Major Mafia Lawyer Joins Biglaw Firm

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