The arrival of summer associates brings good news for the permanent lawyers and staff of Biglaw. Not only do summer associates infuse their firms with youth and beauty (and opportunities for free lunches), but they serve as an amulet of protection against the layoff spirits.

Yes, summer programs have shrunk dramatically since the pre-recession glory days. Check out this sobering infographic for a powerful illustration.

But for those folks lucky enough to land summer associate positions, the odds remain high that they will get offers (unless they misbehave). And firms want those offers to be accepted, so they try to present themselves to summer associates as shiny happy workplaces. Layoffs, whether of lawyers or staff, are kind of a buzzkill. Firms prefer to conduct them before or after their summer programs.

So perhaps this latest news will be our last layoff reporting for a while. Which firm just made double-digit cuts to its ranks?

We heard rumblings of layoffs last month at McDermott Will & Emery. In response to our inquiry, Bob Koenen, chief operating officer at MWE, issued this statement:

McDermott continually strives to align our business model to ensure we respond to changing client needs, promote operational efficiency and enhance our ability to produce top-quality work. These factors have led us to implement a number of best practices over the past several years, extending from our use of new billing arrangements to adjusting staffing levels in our administrative departments.

It is clear that the role of legal secretary has changed significantly in recent years as technology has allowed lawyers work with less need for administrative support. In this regard and consistent with industry practices, we have looked for ways to create further efficiencies throughout our secretarial function across the Firm. As a first step in this process, we have made the difficult decision to eliminate 25 legal secretary positions. The employees affected have been notified of this decision, and each will receive a generous severance package to help ease their transition. No other positions are affected.

This decision was difficult and not made lightly. However, after examining numerous other options, we regret that it was necessary in order to adjust to the new marketplace realities and the Firm’s evolving legal support needs. We very much appreciate the many contributions of those who are departing and wish them all the best.

McDermott is a strong, fiscally sound firm that is growing prudently to achieve our strategic objectives and efficiently serve our clients. As we do so, we will continue to invest in lawyers and staff to help us seize new opportunities and enhance our position in the industry.

It’s worth noting that the reductions were conducted across McDermott’s total platform of almost 20 offices around the world. So the cuts amount to slightly more than one secretary per office.

The reductions might not be huge, but they are still unwelcome news to the affected individuals. Good luck to them as they seek new opportunities in a still-challenging environment for secretaries and administrative assistants.

And lawyers, don’t get too comfortable, dismissing these technologically driven reductions as “just affecting secretaries.” As Professor John O. McGinnis explained in an interesting essay for City Journal, Machines v. Lawyers, the robots are coming for you too. As lawyer turned entrepreneur Tim Hwang recently quipped, “I want to replace lawyers with code.”

If people at your firm are being let go, whether because of technological change or other reasons, please let us know. You can email us or text us (646-820-8477). Thanks.

Machines v. Lawyers [City Journal]

Earlier: More On The Decline Of The Biglaw Summer Program
The Chart That Should Make Everybody Doing On-Campus Interviewing Absolutely Freaking Terrified
This Guy Wants To Kill All Your Biglaw Job Opportunities


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