Biglaw, California, Layoffs, Secretaries / Administrative Assistants, Severance, Staff Layoffs

Nationwide Layoff Watch: California Dreamin’ of Unemployment Benefits

Earlier this week, we warned you about the layoff train. It’s coming down the track at breakneck speed, and there’s just no stopping it. We told you to watch out if you wanted to survive, but you didn’t believe us, and now yet another firm is facing significant cuts.

Which California-based Biglaw firm is slashing its headcount to “better position the firm for the future”?

Wilson Sonsini announced yesterday that it would be “making some adjustments” among its legal support staff, eliminating about 35 secretarial positions in its Palo Alto office. Co-managing partners Douglas Clark and Jack Sheridan issued a firm-wide memo, originally obtained by Am Law Daily, with some of the pertinent details for those affected by the staffing cuts (the full memo is on the next page):

[A]fter a great deal of careful analysis and deliberation, we are making some adjustments to our existing legal support structure. This reorganization will result in the elimination of approximately 35 secretarial positions, primarily in Palo Alto. The affected legal secretaries will receive separation pay and the appropriate support services to help them with the transition.

While some disruption is inevitable, please know that we will make every effort to make this transition as smooth as possible. We will be holding a series of town hall meetings for both attorneys and staff to further explain the decision and answer any questions. Details will follow shortly.

This may sound like a kinder, gentler layoff of sorts, due to the firm’s attempts to remain transparent throughout the process, but one of our tipsters — who now understands why “annual raises were not timely communicated in July,” with questions about raises having been deflected by the firm since then — claims it was “very badly communicated” within the firm, and that severance packages were reportedly “small”:

No one (or very few secretaries) had been laid off at the time the memo was sent. Naturally, hysteria ensued. All in all, things were described to me as “chaos.” Not WSGR’s proudest moment, but… it’s also the kind of firm that, generally, does not value support staff.

Ouch. Like the rest of the staff layoffs that we’ve seen of late, those at Wilson Sonsini are being blamed on “technology and increased operational efficiencies.” The fact that the firm’s profits per partner dropped by 6.8 percent, of course, was apparently of little consequence.

Also of little consequence seems to be Wilson Sonsini’s incoming revenue stream from the Twitter IPO, which it snagged over Fenwick & West, the social media company’s long-time outside counsel. (Twitter’s new GC, Vijaya Gadde, as well as its former GC, Alexander Macgillivray, are both alumni of Wilson Sonsini.) A source believes that WSGR will have a “very strong IPO pipeline for the next 6-12 months.” But in the struggle to maintain flagging profits per partner, laying waste to staff headcount is an easy solution.

Perhaps Wilson Sonsini’s outgoing secretaries will be able to take heart in this sentimental send-off: the firm thought they were the “best in the business.” It’s a shame they were no match for the legal industry’s changes. Good luck to them as they seek new opportunities, whether in the legal field or beyond.

Is your firm conducting layoffs, stealth or otherwise? If you have information to share, about Wilson Sonsini or any other notable law firm, feel free to email us or text us (646-820-8477).

(Click through to the next page to see the full memo regarding layoffs from Wilson Sonsini.)

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