Biglaw, Layoffs, Secretaries / Administrative Assistants, Staff Layoffs

Voluntary Buyout Watch: Because Computers Are Better Employees Than You

Hot on the heels of the layoffs at Fried Frank, we’ve got the details on yet another Biglaw firm that’s tightening its belt. Perhaps Fried Frank’s layoffs can be excused by the fact that its profits per partner dropped by 16.8 percent year over year, according to the latest Am Law 100 rankings. The latest firm has no such excuse — its profits per partner increased by 7.8 percent from 2011 to 2012.

But apparently that increase was a little too modest, because the firm is now opting to kick its older employees to the curb in favor of the latest technological advances (just like every other firm).

Which one is offering voluntary buyouts to its employees in order to welcome our new computer overlords?

We’ve heard reports of a voluntary retirement program at Katten Muchin Rosenman. Based on what we’ve been told, it seems the firm is offering members of its support staff — but only the ones who are age 55 and up — an early retirement incentive that must be accepted by January 2014. The departure date for these employees is scheduled for sometime in March 2014.

We reached out to the firm, which provided this statement through a spokesperson:

Given the advances in technology and attorney work habits, the demand for administrative support is not what it once was. Based on our research, Katten’s lawyer-to-secretary ratio is among the lowest in the nation. The demands of our attorneys no longer support the number of legal secretaries we employ. Out of respect for the loyalty and dedication of our legal secretaries, we have offered a generous early retirement package that will help ease the transition to retirement or other work.

We’ve not yet heard what will happen to these people if they don’t accept. If we were to speculate, we’d imagine that the firm is trying to stave off a round of layoffs by offering early retirement packages to its employees. But query how many buyout acceptances it would take to ward off such a dismal event, and how attractive the “generous” package currently being offered actually is.

Is it better to walk out or be thrown out? Obviously the former, if you’re lucky enough to be in a position to do so, like this former legal secretary we interviewed. If you need your job badly, you can rely on those who self-select out of the firm, and pray that you’ll be able to out-perform the technology your firm acquires.

Whatever the case may be, we wish those affected at Katten Muchin the best of luck, whether they choose to remain at the firm or choose to enter the unemployment line.

If your firm is reducing the ranks of its lawyers or staff, whether through open layoffs or stealth layoffs or voluntary buyouts, let us know. You can email us or text us (646-820-8477). Thanks.

Earlier: Should You Accept A Biglaw Buyout Package?

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