Biglaw, Layoffs, Secretaries / Administrative Assistants, Staff Layoffs

Nationwide Layoff Watch: Buyouts And Reductions At A Top-Tier Law Firm

Will that plant ever find a new home?

Law firms across the land are running tighter ships these days. Even if your firm breaks the $2 million mark in profits per partner, which is good enough to put it in the top quarter of the Am Law 100, there’s no reason to dilute your PPP unnecessarily.

Consider the venerable law firm of Debevoise & Plimpton, one of Biglaw’s most prestigious and profitable firms. Earlier this year, the firm parted ways with its trusts and estates practice, a move that was viewed in some quarters as designed to enhance profit.[1]

First they came for the T&E lawyers. Then they came for the legal secretaries and other support staff….

We’ve received reports of voluntary buyouts and a small number of staff layoffs at Debevoise. We understand that “retirement-eligible” secretaries are being offered buyouts. The package consists of a lump sum payment of up to $25,000, depending on seniority, plus one week of pay for every year of service. It’s not clear what will happen if not enough secretaries take the deal, but given its generosity, hopefully we won’t find out.

We reached out to the firm, which confirmed the secretarial buyout offers, plus limited layoffs in other departments, in a statement:

We regularly review administrative staffing levels, and in light of continued technological and other changes in how law firms work, we have made the decision to make some modest reductions to our administrative staff through an incentivized voluntary retirement program within our secretarial department and a small number of headcount reductions in other areas. We are committed to working closely with our affected colleagues to provide them with appropriate severance and support.

Voluntary retirement packages are an important tool that institutions can use as they rightsize themselves. Hopefully some Debevoise secretaries are as financially secure as the ex-Biglaw secretary we recently interviewed who happily took a buyout. If they step forward to take the deal, then their needier colleagues can continue at the firm. (We saw this dynamic at work recently at Seton Hall Law School, which successfully avoided faculty layoffs because senior professors took buyouts.)

Here’s a question for the readership: does anyone know of a growing law firm that is actually looking to hire a large number of legal secretaries? If you’re aware of such a lifeboat, please email us or text us (646-820-8477). We’re not expecting much of a response to this request for a purple unicorn, but hey, you never know. Thanks.

1. For the record, I viewed the move of the Debevoise T&E lawyers to Loeb & Loeb as a potential win-win situation: “The Debevoise trusts and estates attorneys will probably wind up at a firm where they can continue to do excellent work, charge their clients much less in fees, and not get dirty looks in the elevator if they leave before 7 p.m.”

Earlier: Debevoise Ditches Its Trusts and Estates Practice
Should You Accept A Biglaw Buyout Package?

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