Layoffs

Earlier this week, we warned you about the layoff train. It’s coming down the track at breakneck speed, and there’s just no stopping it. We told you to watch out if you wanted to survive, but you didn’t believe us, and now yet another firm is facing significant cuts.

Which California-based Biglaw firm is slashing its headcount to “better position the firm for the future”?

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‘The layoff train’s gonna derail Biglaw!’

I’m surprised that anybody’s surprised. You’re going to continue to see it as firms look [to save money] in a slow-growth or no-growth economy. By far and away the biggest savings area is people.

Thomas S. Clay, a principal with Altman Weil, explaining that additional staff layoffs will soon be coming down the pipeline at Biglaw firms nationwide, specifically because nonlawyer staff salaries represent about 40 percent of a firm’s expenses.

You’d probably pack up too if you were in this secretary’s shoes.

Voluntary buyouts for support staff are going viral within Biglaw — and that’s a good thing, at least compared to the alternative of layoffs. As we’ve previously observed, “voluntary retirement programs allow employees to self-select, so that employees who are well-situated to enter unemployment can opt in, while employees who need their jobs badly can keep working.”

Whether you should accept or decline your firm’s buyout depends on many factors. What kind of savings or other assets do you have? How generous is the package being offered? Do you have a spouse who still works? Do you have dependents who rely upon your income?

We heard from one retired legal secretary in response to our recent request for volunteers willing to discuss why they took or didn’t take a buyout. You can see why this secretary entered early retirement, due to an enviable financial position and a delicious package….

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Say hello to ‘Buyout Box,’ which we use in lieu of ‘Layoff Lady’ when covering voluntary retirement programs.

This past spring, McKenna Long & Aldridge made it into the Am Law 100, the nation’s 100 largest law firms by revenue. McKenna achieved this feat by posting an impressive 23 percent jump in gross revenue.

Now that it’s in the big leagues, McKenna is following the lead of other Biglaw firms by trying to get smaller (and more efficient). Like so many other top firms, it seeks to reduce its secretarial staff through voluntary buyouts….

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Would you pack it all in for generous severance?

Many longtime observers of the legal profession argue that it’s not what it once was and that it’s increasingly focused on the bottom line. But even when trying to improve the bottom line, many law firms go about it in a kindler, gentler manner. Traces of Biglaw’s gentility remain.

Today we have news of another firm that’s reducing its ranks — not through layoffs, but through generous voluntary buyout packages….

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“The role of the traditional ‘legal secretary’ is rapidly changing,” one secretary recently told us. “Major law firms are full of career secretaries with 20 to 25 years of service, but younger attorneys don’t need the same assistance. You will see that many firms are adopting a secretarial team/services center model which increases the secretary/attorney ratio from 1:3 to 1:5, 1:6, 1:7 or more. At my former firm, it was 1:10. Honest.”

“Paralegals are in trouble too,” this source added. “First-year associates need something to do. I am ranting now.”

This tipster (and several others) told us about yet another law firm conducting layoffs, which we confirmed with the firm….

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Firms generally celebrate when they make lateral hires. They trumpet the new arrivals with press releases, invoking themes of growth, expansion, and an enhanced ability to serve clients.

For folks who are already at a firm, however, could lateral hiring have a downside? Could it possibly result in layoffs of existing employees?

Our latest layoff story raises this possibility….

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We almost made it, but not quite. We almost experienced a week, albeit a shortened one, without layoff news. (Our last layoff story came out before the long holiday weekend.)

The latest cuts are significant, into the double digits. Let’s find out which firm is reducing headcount and by how much….

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Earlier this year, K&L Gates generated some (generally positive) press by issuing an unusually detailed disclosure of its firm financials. The report reflected a reassuringly conservative financial position, with zero bank debt and limited retirement-plan obligations (a trouble spot for many other law firms).

It looks like K&L Gates is keeping to its conservatism. It’s trimming its headcount in D.C. and Seattle, presumably to reduce expenses….

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Back in July, following the news of the possible purge of junior faculty at Seton Hall and the staff massacre at McGeorge, we wondered: “Which law school will be next?” With law school applications still in free fall, something, somewhere, had to give, and it certainly wasn’t going to be beautiful buildings, the price of tuition, the number of tenured professors, or their similarly splendid salaries.

No, the easiest way to save money — $4.4 million of it — is by dropping the unimportant human weight, and the most expendable souls seem to hail from the adjunct faculty and staff ranks at the latest law school to conduct layoffs. Which esteemed academy of legal education could it be?

We’ll give you a clue. The school is no stranger to controversy, seeing as it served as the origin of the very first law school lawsuit over deceptive employment statistics ever filed….

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