Firms generally celebrate when they make lateral hires. They trumpet the new arrivals with press releases, invoking themes of growth, expansion, and an enhanced ability to serve clients.

For folks who are already at a firm, however, could lateral hiring have a downside? Could it possibly result in layoffs of existing employees?

Our latest layoff story raises this possibility….

We recently heard about reductions in force at Duane Morris. Here is what one source told us:

On Friday, September 6, Duane Morris LLP laid off 13 legal assistants, one document specialist, one file clerk, and two paralegals in offices where the attorney-to-staff ratio didn’t meet the firm’s desires. Affected were staff in several offices, with San Francisco being hit the hardest. No severance pay was offered unless affected staff were willing to sign a legally binding Severance Agreement and Release.

“The decision to reduce was based on the Firm’s desire to decrease administrative costs. Thus, the Firm considered all non-lawyer staff in the U.S. offices of the Firm when determining the reduction in force.”

We reached out to the firm for comment. A Duane Morris spokesperson issued this statement:

We eliminated 17 legal assistant positions (secretary and paralegal) across our 25 offices in order to get our ratios back in line with our previous levels. Our numbers had gotten out of alignment due to our hiring of lateral attorneys — some 42 partners and counsel in the last two years alone. Many of those brought legal assistants with them, and the ratio has been compounded by very low turnover in our legal assistant ranks. The individual decisions were based on merit and not length of service. Our continual investment throughout in technology and the high quality of our professional and administrative staff made this an appropriate and good business decision for the firm.

It sounds like a perfectly logical decision for the firm, but it is unfortunate for the dismissed individuals. Best of luck to the affected employees.

Duane Morris does appear to be in expansion mode, as you can see from their recent press releases. As we noted in Morning Docket, the firm just opened an office in Myanmar (which has beautiful architecture, as Staci noted, as well as incredible food).

But sometimes making room for new arrivals requires saying goodbye to current staff. It’s all part of the creative destruction that is sweeping through the legal industry right now.

Earlier: Prior ATL coverage of layoffs


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