Overcapacity. The Biglaw word du jour. Too many lawyers working in Biglaw to meet demand. Or is it too many lawyers in Biglaw to foist on that subset of clients still willing to pay those rates that guarantee profits-per-partner increases? Either way, the word is out. Biglaw is suffering from overcapacity. Something must be done.
Some firms will undoubtedly send out the message that every single one of their lawyers is in great demand. Debate among yourselves whether or not these firms are “stealth layoff” candidates.
Other firms have already taken action (e.g., Weil Gotshal) — sweeping, public action. Hopefully they did not enjoy what they were “forced” to do too much. The first cut is the hardest, as they say, and who can say that one of these firms won’t decide to wield the layoff katana like a sake-infused samurai?
Last week, we wrote about reductions to the ranks of lawyers and staff at WilmerHale. We noted that the cuts, made in connection with twice-annual performance reviews, seemed to focus on IP litigation and on the Boston and Palo Alto offices.
Today we bring you additional information about the reductions, which look a lot like stealth layoffs. They seem to be more widespread, in terms of offices and practice areas, than previously reported.
And they might be due to some earlier overhiring, reflected in an interesting email we received….
* No, silly, Ruth Bader Ginsburg isn’t “too old” to be a Supreme Court justice. So what if she uses the SOTU address as her personal naptime? She’s brilliant, and everyone loves her. [Los Angeles Times]
* “Justice delayed due to overworked judges can … mean justice denied,” and Obama’s got a lot of work ahead of him due to a “uniquely high” amount of judicial vacancies on his watch. [National Law Journal]
* After the SCOTUS ruling on the Voting Rights Act, Southern states have rushed to push out voter ID laws. But isn’t that discriminatory? “Not true, not true,” as Justice Alito would say. [New York Times]
* It turns out the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court’s redefinition of the word “relevant” is what has allowed the NSA to collect anything and everything. Say au revoir to privacy! [Wall Street Journal (sub. req.)]
* Layoffs: they aren’t just for Biglaw firms anymore! McGeorge Law School is downsizing its staff and student ranks due to an “unprecedented drop” in applications. Another one bites the dust; which law school will be next? [Sacramento Bee]
* Client 9, aka Eliot Spitzer, announced his candidacy for NYC comptroller. He’ll run against Kristen Davis, the woman who once set him up with escorts. That’ll be an awkward debate. [New York Times]
* As the prosecution rests its case and the defense’s acquittal motion is denied, a nation is left wondering whose voice it was on that 911 recording — Trayvon Martin’s or George Zimmerman’s? [CNN]
Ed. note: We hope that you had a great July 4th — and that you’re enjoying a four-day weekend. But if you’re at work today and looking for diversion, check us early and often — we will be posting today (although on a reduced publication schedule).
* Lawyer of the Day Long Weekend: Christopher Kirby, whose profanity-laced tirade at the mother of a special-education student during a school board meeting has gone viral. Stay classy, Chris. [New York Daily News]
In the wake of the Weil cuts, our friend Bruce MacEwen gave an interesting interview to Bloomberg Law’s Lee Pacchia. Bruce speculated that there is possibility of up to 10% overcapacity in Biglaw, and the supply and demand curves for legal talent have permanently shifted. In Bruce’s view, Weil is “very much ahead of the curve.” Ominous tidings for associates everywhere. There’s an interesting point in the interview where Pacchia wonders whether the legal profession will ever return to a “halcyon era” where law firm partners’ immediate self-interest is minimized in favor of long-term stewardship. Bruce, channeling Clubber Lang, responds that the only thing that will return us to that golden era, if it ever existed, is more pain.
Last week we conducted a research poll asking for your take on whether the Weil layoffs signal an oncoming reprise of the Biglaw bloodbath of 2008-09 or a singular phenomenon. Let’s look at the results of our poll and some choice highlights from your responses….
In the dark days of 2009, we had frequent occasion to discuss the difference between “layoffs” and “performance-based dismissals.” Layoffs are generally understood as economically motivated, large-scale reductions in headcount, while performance-based dismissals involve specific individuals being asked to leave for cause. (Some see this as the difference being getting laid-off versus getting fired, although I’ve sometimes heard layoffs referred to as firings.)
The distinction can be a fine one. Unless cuts are made based on factors like seniority or practice area, layoffs often target weaker performers, so they can look a lot like performance-based terminations. There’s no bright-line cutoff, in numerical terms, for what constitutes a round of layoffs. And you can’t let firm characterization control, since many firms find it in their reputational interest to deny layoffs (unless the cuts are so large as to be undeniable; see, e.g., last week’s Weil Gotshal layoffs).
Today we bring you a story that captures this ambiguity. Several lawyers and staffers, totaling a number believed to be in the double digits, have been asked to leave a firm — but the firm denies that it’s conducting “layoffs.” We’ll present the facts and let you be the judge….
Last week, I shared some thoughts regarding Biglaw summer associates. I thought it would be interesting to interview a current summer associate, and I was happy to hear from some brave volunteers.
The summer associate who is the subject of this interview has an impressive résumé and is off to a solid start at their highly-rated law school. That their credentials are strong is not surprising, considering the challenging job environment for those hoping to land a summer associate position in the first place.
The words of our interviewee are unedited, except to protect their anonymity. I’ve added some responsive parenthetical commentary after each response. I thank our interviewee for their candid observations and thoughtful opinions in response to these questions….
Untenured law professors are not protected from pink slips.
As law school applications continue to decline, law schools must make hard choices. A law school can maintain the size of its entering class — and the revenue stream generated by those students — but at the cost of lowering its admissions standards. Or a law school can shrink the size of its entering class, accepting the decline in revenue to maintain the caliber of its student body, and make up for the lost revenue by cutting costs.
In my view, the second approach is superior. As the legal job market continues to shrink, with even top law firms conducting large-scale layoffs, it makes sense for law schools to produce fewer graduates. The legal profession is “right-sizing,” and law schools should follow suit.
But even if the second approach is better than the first, it’s not without pain. Last week, we heard reports of one law school basically axing its entire junior faculty. All of the untenured professors received notice that their contracts might not be renewed for the 2014-2015 academic year. Ouch.
As is so often the case, though, there’s more to this story than meets the eye….
A dizzying array of legal news delivered almost non-stop for an entire week. Emotional highs when DOMA is struck down, lows when a pillar of the legal landscape for nearly 50 years is swept aside, leaving millions of Americans even more concerned about their constitutional rights than they were before. There was an epic filibuster and failed jokes. This was a hell of a week to be covering the law.
As the frenzied week draws to a close, I decided to look back and compile my personal review of the major events of the week, gathered in one omnibus post.
So let’s take a look at the week that was ranging from Aaron Hernandez to the Supreme Court…
Are legal secretaries the buggy-whip makers of Biglaw? If you lose your job as a legal secretary, is it worth it trying to find a new secretarial position, or should you get new training and try to switch fields?
The latter option might be better, at least if you are still early enough in your career. Check out this interesting (but depressing) article from the Wall Street Journal, Why Legal Secretaries Can’t Find Jobs. One of the secretaries mentioned in the article is still looking for a new permanent position some four years after he was Lathamed.
And, sadly, the layoffs of legal secretaries show no sign of abating. On the heels of the Weil Gotshal layoffs — in which 60 associates and 110 staffers, including 60 legal secretaries, lost their jobs — we have more cuts to report….
Ed. note: The Asia Chronicles column is authored by Kinney Recruiting. Kinney has made more placements of U.S. associates, counsels and partners in Asia than any other recruiting firm in each of the past seven years. You can reach them by email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please note that Evan Jowers and Robert Kinney are still in Hong Kong and will stay FOR THE REMAINDER OF THIS WEEK. We still have a handful of available slots for meetings with our Asia Chronicles fans. If we have not been in touch lately, reach out and let us know when we could meet! There is no need for an agenda at all. Most of our in-person meetings on these trips are with folks who understand that improving a legal practice through lateral hiring is an information-driven process that takes time to handle correctly.
Regarding trends in lateral US associate hiring in Hong Kong, we of course keep much of what we know off of this blog. Based on placement revenue, though, Kinney is having one of our most successful years ever in Asia. We are helping a number of our law firm clients with M&A, fund formation, cap markets, project finance, FCPA and disputes openings. These are very specific needs in many cases, so a conversation with us before jumping in may be helpful. As always, we like to be sure to get the maximum number of interviews per submission, using a well-informed, highly targeted, and selective approach, taking into account short, medium and long-term career aims.
Making a well informed decision during a job search is easier said than done – the information we provide comes from 10 years of being the market leader in US attorney placements at the top tier firms in Asia. There is no substitute for having known a hiring partner since he/she was an associate or for having helped a partner grow his or her practice from zip to zooming, and this is happily where we stand today – with years of background information on just about every relevant person in all the markets we serve, and most especially in Hong Kong/China/Greater Asia. So get in touch and get a download from us this week if we can fit it in, or soon in any case!
The legal industry is being disrupted at every level by technological advances. While legal tech entrepreneurs and innovators are racing to create a more efficient and productive future, there is widespread indifference on the part of attorneys toward these emerging technologies.
When the LexisNexis Cloud Technology Survey results were reported earlier this year, it showed that attorneys were starting to peer less skeptically into the future, and slowly but surely leaning more toward all the benefits the law cloud has to offer.
Because let’s face it, plenty of attorneys are perhaps a bit too comfortable with their “system” of practice management, which may or may not include neon highlighters, sticky notes, dog-eared file folders, and a word processing program that was last updated when the term “raise the roof” was still de rigueur.