Secretaries / Administrative Assistants

Bruce Stachenfeld

“Low overhead is great!” That is one of our sayings. We recite it all the time — yes, even out loud at meetings — as it is a powerful competitive advantage for a law firm. It seems pretty obvious, but if so, why doesn’t everyone get with this concept?

There is a term informally used to describe how overhead impacts a law firm called “Implied Overhead.” The “Implied Overhead” of a law firm is the cost of everything except the lawyers divided by the number of lawyers. So if you have 50 lawyers and the cost of “everything” except the lawyers is $10,000,000, then you have implied overhead of $200,000 per lawyer.

Our Implied Overhead for last year was about $165,000. Anecdotally I believe that Implied Overhead for major law firms averages about $300,000. (I admit I don’t really have this data for sure; it is just what I have heard.) If your firm has 100 lawyers and implied overhead of $200,000 and the average for major law firms is $300,000, then you have a $100,000 per lawyer competitive advantage over your major law firm competition. Multiply that by 100 lawyers and you just made $10,000,000! And this flows right to the bottom line! If there are, say, 30 partners at this firm, then each partner just got a check for $333,333!

Yikes — did I do that math right? Was that $333,333 per partner merely by reducing the implied overhead?  I just double checked and $10,000,000 divided by 30 partners does indeed equal $333,333. That’s a sizable number, so maybe you should read the rest of my article….

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In a recent survey, managing partners of large law firms expressed tepid expectations about demand for legal services. So it’s not surprising that cost cutting — or, to put it more nicely, expense-management initiatives — remain popular in Biglaw.

Who’s the latest major law firm trying to reduce its payroll through a voluntary retirement program?

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Ed. note: This is the latest post by Anonymous Recruitment Director, who offers an insider’s perspective on the world of law firm hiring.

In my last column, I offered advice for summer associates. Today I’ll return to the mailbag and answer questions received from readers by email.

Today’s topics: paraprofessionals and legal recruiters. As always, please note that these are simply my personal views on the questions presented.

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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?

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We’re midway through Biglaw’s second quarter, and this will be the third week in a row we’re covering law firm layoffs or buyouts of some variety. This just goes to show that no matter how well a firm does, it’s always looking to do better, and the easiest way to do so is by managing human expenses.

Sometimes the firms attempting to trim their ranks are members of the “Super Rich,” with high revenues per lawyer (at least $1 million) and even higher profits per partner (at least $2 million). Other times, these firms are rich but not super-rich — firms that generally saw “modest, hard-won gains” last year, according to the American Lawyer.

The firm we’re writing about today falls into the latter group, with relatively small financial gains in 2013. Despite this, it’s still offering “very generous” packages to inspire employees to walk away….

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It was just last week we were informed that the firms designated as “super rich” among all other Biglaw firms — specifically, the 20 with profits per partner of $2 million or more and revenue per lawyer of $1 million or more — were only getting richer.

That being the case, we can’t imagine that these Biglaw titans are hurting for cash, especially when the chasm between the super rich and everyone else keeps growing wider and wider.

This is why we were shocked to find out that the top-tier law firm recently revered for having the best brand in the business was trying to trim its ranks with offers of buyout packages…

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For months, if not years now, the Biglaw buzzword of choice has been “rightsizing.” The practice has infiltrated all sectors of the legal profession, even law schools. Pushing aside all the flowery BS explanations, we know what that phrase really means. There’s not enough money to go around, and whatever is left isn’t worth spending on you.

This week, yet another law firm decided that some of its employees were more expendable than others, conducting a double-digit layoff.

How many were let go, and which firm was it?

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As we noted earlier today, the legal sector has added 2,300 jobs since the start of 2014. For an industry that currently employs more than 1.1 million people, 2,300 new jobs doesn’t sound like a lot — but hey, it’s better than shedding jobs.

Note that we’re talking about net job growth. Some legal employers are hiring, while others are firing.

Which major law firm just laid off a total of 52 lawyers and staffers last week?

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The legal profession is not what it once was. It seems like every week, we’re writing about the same topics, over and over again: tumbling profits, partner departures, and layoffs. Biglaw’s focus on the bottom line is even sharper than in years past, and that means that when firms are hurting for cash, the first thing they’ll cut is “excess” personnel.

For a firm that sank like a stone in the most recent Fortune “Best Companies to Work For” rankings, sliding from #62 to #81 in just a year’s time, reducing ranks is sure to earn it another demotion.

Not so fast, though, because to our knowledge, this leading law firm isn’t desperately seeking dollars, and it’s not conducting layoffs just yet, either — instead, generous buyout packages are being offered…

(Please note the UPDATES to this post below.)

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On our recent post about bonuses at Bingham McCutchen, some commenters complained about our coverage of the firm. Here’s what one said: “What this article fails to mention is that NO ONE made their hours, it’s THAT slow. Good job, ATL, for eating whatever it is Bingham pays you to NOT report [on bad goings-on at the firm].”

Actually, we’re perfectly willing to report on negative developments at Bingham (or any other major law firm). Just email us or text us (646-820-8477), and we’ll investigate.

There’s certainly a lot to cover over at Bingham: tumbling profits, partner departures, and unfortunately timed staff layoffs. We’ve collected some reporting from around the web, which we’ve combined with inside information from ATL tipsters at the firm. Let’s have a look, shall we?

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