When a Biglaw firm gets a new chairman, you can be relatively sure that things are going to change, especially if the firm is in the middle of the pack in terms of size and profitability.

Sure, the firm might have been happy being in its Goldilocks position before, but this is the New Normal. Maybe being not too big, but not too small just isn’t going to work anymore.

This firm may have the urge to merge — it’s already spoken to “three or four” potential partners. As we know, with mergers come reductions in redundancies, and it seems like this firm is looking to slim down to be a more attractive mate.

Which firm are we talking about, and how many heads are expected to roll with its planned cuts?

We mentioned in mid-January that Steptoe & Johnson had a new man in charge, Phillip West, but that for a merger to work, the “right partner” would have to come along since he’s not interested in “growth for growth’s sake.” Pruning personnel, on the other hand, is apparently another story entirely.

We heard reports of a voluntary buyout program for senior staff at Steptoe & Johnson earlier this week. We reached out to the firm, which provided this statement through a spokesperson:

As part of our normal budgeting process at the beginning of each year, we regularly review and evaluate our staffing levels in relation to law firm industry metrics and our desire to be more efficient in the delivery of legal services. In this regard, we are offering a voluntary buyout package to legal executive assistants with more than a dozen years of service and, combined with retirements and normal attrition, are aiming to eliminate approximately 40 total positions over the course of the year.

Forty positions is a lot, but it’s important to note this is supposed to be spread over an entire year — that’s roughly three to four people leaving each month, which sounds less ominous. If no one accepts these voluntary buyout packages, though, we’re not so sure how voluntary future departures will be. Yikes!

Whatever the case may be, we wish those affected at Steptoe & Johnson the best of luck, whether they choose to remain at the firm and tempt fate or choose to take the money and run.

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.

New Chairman at Steptoe Eyes the Future [National Law Journal]

Earlier: Morning Docket: 01.14.14 (third link)


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