This week has been a big one for rankings. On Monday, the American Lawyer released the 2014 Am Law 100 rankings, chronicling how Biglaw fared in 2013. Last night, we released our top 50 law school rankings, based on the latest employment data from the ABA.

The process of getting measured causes people to modify themselves toward the metric; just ask any bride trying to fit into her wedding dress. So it shouldn’t be surprising that, with rankings on the brain, law firm leaders have been cutting headcount to boost profits.

Which major law firm just announced double-digit cuts, perhaps in an effort to get into fighting shape by Memorial Day, before the arrival of summer associates?

Yesterday we started hearing rumblings of layoffs at Winston & Strawn. We were a little short on details — lawyers versus staff, which offices, which departments — so we reached out to the firm. Managing partner Tom Fitzgerald issued this statement:

It comes as no surprise that all law firms have adjusted their administrative support function in response to both improvements in technology and economic conditions that continue to favor lean staffing and efficiency. After careful consideration, Winston & Strawn has made the decision to eliminate nearly 30 administrative positions out of a total 728 staff members across our U.S. offices. We are grateful to those affected for their excellent service over the years; they will receive severance packages appropriate with their tenure. This realignment of our support function is consistent with Winston’s overall goal to provide our clients with cost-effective solutions to their business problems.

Fitzgerald is correct in observing that Winston is far from alone in adjusting support staff levels; just take a spin through our staff layoff archives. If a firm isn’t making such adjustments, one has to wonder why. And the Winston cuts aren’t huge, amounting to just 4 percent of total staff.

Even if the cuts are understandable, they are still bad news for the affected individuals. We hear that the reductions hit secretaries, paralegals, and receptionists, in multiple offices around the country.

Although lawyers were not affected, Winston’s attorney headcount has been declining lately. In last year’s Am Law 100 rankings — the 2013 rankings, based on 2012 performance — Winston had 842 lawyers and 178 equity partners. In the latest Am Law 100 rankings — the 2014 rankings, based on 2013 performance — Winston had 822 lawyers, including 174 equity partners. So both lawyer and equity-partner headcount fell by about 2 percent last year. Despite shrinking the denominator in the profits per partner figure, Winston saw PPP fall by 5.4 percent in 2013.

Good luck to the staffers affected by these latest reductions, and good luck to Winston & Strawn as it puts its house in order. Hopefully these cuts will be the last ones for a long time.

Profit Pressure Prompting Firm Leaders to Swing Ax [American Lawyer (sub. req.)]

Earlier: The 2014 Am Law 100: ‘The Super Rich Get Richer’


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