The hits to the legal industry just keep coming. Every time you think you have mastered the new normal, there is a new issue that needs to be addressed. Yes, this is probably because law firms were so entrenched in the way they do business that they refused to change and are only now seeing the landscape change around them.
But the reality is that all our jobs are heading to India. Right? There’s many a project manager who likes to threaten the review team when they aren’t coding fast enough, “If you don’t code faster they’ll send this case to India!”
These days, despite news of record numbers in terms of gross revenue, it seems we can’t even make it through one week without news of layoffs coming from within Biglaw’s hallowed halls. In fact, last week brought even more lamentable news from large law firms (on top of the double-digit IT outsourcing at one top firm).
Which Biglaw firm is pink-slipping employees en masse in favor of outsourcing this time?
Of all the different Biglaw constituencies, legal secretaries have probably suffered the most in terms of recent layoffs. In this technological age, lawyers do their own typing, don’t give dictation as much, and can use voice-recognition software when they do. Shorthand isn’t as valuable a skill as it used to be.
So what should a legal secretary facing a voluntary buyout or an involuntary layoff do with himself? Assuming he’s not ready to take the money and run (or retire), he should find new employment. And that might require obtaining new skills, ones that are in greater demand in 2013.
Some might tell a displaced legal secretary, “I just want to say one word to you. Just one word. Technology.” If technology taketh away jobs, it can also giveth, right?
Well, not so fast. Even techie types are getting laid off, as the latest layoff news demonstrates….
While summer associates are present, certain subjects are off-limits. Don’t talk about that group of partners with a huge book of business that’s going to defect any day now. Don’t talk about that salacious lawsuit against the firm that’s still pending.
And don’t talk about layoffs — of staffers or lawyers or both. Reductions are such a buzzkill….
* It looks like it’s time for yet another rousing game of Biglaw musical chairs. This time, 11 of Bingham McCutchen’s securities enforcement partners are hightailing it over to Sidley Austin en masse. [DealBook / New York Times]
* This week in on-shore outsourcing: there may be a job waiting for you at Kaye Scholer’s new operations center (so new we bet you didn’t know about it), so hurry up and apply, because the interviews are soon. [Tallahassee Democrat]
* “We’re trained in the law and persuasion, not firearms.” But maybe you should be? After the targeted killing of attorneys in Texas, prosecutors are now on high alert. [New York Times]
* When looking at the current law school model, Paul Caron of TaxProf Blog urges law deans to take advice from Jimmy McMillan because “law school tuition is simply too damn high.” [Businessweek]
* Change our admissions practices amid the worst legal economy we’ve seen in decades? “Ain’t nobody got time for that,” scoffed Sarah Zearfoss, director of admissions at Michigan Law. [AnnArbor.com]
* Drexel Law will accept applications for its two-year law degree program in May 2014. The higher-ups at the ABA are scheduled to laugh their asses off on or about the same date. [Philadelphia Inquirer]
* “[F]or James Eagan Holmes, justice is death.” In a move that shocked absolutely no one, the prosecution in the Aurora, Colorado movie theater massacre case is seeking the death penalty. [CNN]
I reported several weeks ago that I had been solicited to write an article about the future of Biglaw firms. But it was actually better than that: The invitation came from the “Sunday Review” (formerly “The Week In Review”) section of The New York Times, which is a pretty cool place to ask you to write.
Unfortunately, and apparently unbeknownst to the editor of the “Sunday Review” section, the Times ran a “DealBook” section on the fate of large law firms before my ditty could appear in print. This preempted my article (or at least that’s what the editor said, although maybe she was just sparing my feelings). So instead of having a piece in the NYT, I’m just another schlub typing away at Above the Law.
But if I took the time to write a 1,200-word piece on the future of big law firms, then I’m sure as heck going to get some use out of it. So here you are: “The Assault on Biglaw,” by yours truly, which damn near appeared in the Sunday Times….
In light of the possibletrouble that may lie ahead for large law firms, it should come as no surprise that some of them are battening down the hatches. One way to prepare for a tough economic climate is to reduce one’s expenses. And one way to reduce expenses is to conduct layoffs, of attorneys or of staff.
But the work, the work that generates revenue for firms, still needs to get done. One way of reducing expenses while still getting all the work done is to outsource certain functions to an outside service provider. This effectively gets job positions “off the books” of the law firm, which no longer has to pay salaries or benefits for the lawyers or staffers in question; the law firm just has to pay the vendor. (This could be viewed as a form of financing; as you may recall, cash-strapped Dewey used vendors for many services — vendors who are now its creditors in bankruptcy.)
Let’s learn about the latest firm that is reducing the ranks of its staff in favor of relying on an outside company….
I guess Lexington, Massachusetts, wasn’t quite desperate enough to offer a big firm a better deal.
Last month we told you that Biglaw firms have encountered success in putting offices in small cities staffed with non-partner track associates and back office personnel.
The trend now continues with Bingham McCutchen’s announcement that they are opening a “Global Services Center” in Lexington, Kentucky. The center will eventually house 250 employees who will handle administrative support functions for the firm. Some current Bingham employees will be given the option of relocating from Boston to Lexington.
Hmm… this reminds me of another person who went from Kentucky to Boston and then back to Kentucky. “Newbury Street isn’t walking through that door, Bingham staffers. Quincy Market isn’t walking through that door, and Fenway Park isn’t walking through that door. And if they did, you’d still be living in Lexington freaking Kentucky.”
Oh, I kid. In all seriousness, though, and from the firm’s perspective, in-sourcing is clearly the way to go…
Here’s the thing about these “onshore,” “insourcing” operations: they are successful. Ridiculously successful. In an article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Orrick chairman Ralph Baxter called the decision to open the Wheeling center “one of the smartest decisions we’ve ever made for the firm and our clients.” And that’s coming from a man who made the smart decision not to merge with Dewey Ballantine.
That’s why every Biglaw managing partner, and every law student thinking of taking out hundreds of thousands of dollars to go to law school, should pay attention to what’s going on in Wheeling…
When Chintan Panchal decided to leave a global BigLaw partnership to start his own firm, he could only hope that he would face the high-quality problem of firm building that many had cautioned him about. Focused on the uncertainty surrounding of a new firm launch, he decided to tackle staffing needs, IT challenges, and financial planning requirements after he had built up his legal practice.
Panchal Associates LLP–a corporate/finance and outside general counsel boutique–was quickly off to a great start. Clients and matters were flying in the door, and Chintan soon had a team of lawyers and staff with a variety of operational needs. To continue building an excellent team and provide them with a competitive benefits package, to expand his physical presence to include a European practice and additional partners, and to scale his operations and IT capabilities to support this growing enterprise brought with it demands of time, money, and expertise. Chintan knew he needed help.
“With the assistance of NexFirm, we have upgraded the capabilities of our firm to meet, and in some cases exceed, the standards we were used to at our former BigLaw firms. Operationally, we can now attract and service clients we didn’t have the bandwidth to support in the past, and continue to build our team with the best and brightest legal talent in the industry,” said Chintan Panchal, adding “It has worked out quite well in our case; NexFirm is an essential partner for us.”
The holiday season is upon us, and yet again, you have no idea what to get for the fickle lawyer in your life. We’re here to help. Even if your bonus check hasn’t arrived yet, any one of the gifts we’ve highlighted here could be a worthy substitute until your employer decides to make it rain.
We’ve got an eclectic selection for you to choose from, so settle in by that stack of documents yet to be reviewed and dig in…
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 six years. You can reach them by email: email@example.com.
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