It’s that time of the year again, says one ATL reader:
now would be a good time for the old “how much are you giving your secretaries for the holidays?” story
It’s customary for associates at large law firms to give a cash gift to their administrative assistants, often along with a card or small gift. Not everyone opts for cold, hard cash — some do AmEx or Visa gift cards.
This year has been a tough one. Some associates have had their salaries frozen and have gotten “baby bonuses” in comparison with years past. Are you planning to let the economic pain trickle down?
Some discussion and advice from last year, after the jump.
Sometimes you have to love Biglaw. Back in March, we reported that Alston & Bird was quietly forcing out secretaries and administrative staff. Our sources report that this approach to staff cuts has been ongoing at the firm. A&B is either letting people know they have a limited amount of time to find a new job or encouraging them to take early retirement.
But that doesn’t mean the firm can’t have a party to celebrate those who have been shoved out of the door. A tipster reports:
Apparently demanding that the staff take early retirement is not enough for the “worker-friendly” Alston & Bird. To rub salt in these early (involuntary) retirees, A&B is throwing them a party! Because nothing says “Fortune 500 Best Place to Work” like a party… for people you effectively fired.
Faithful Coca-Cola drinkers can laugh about this one. PepsiCo is having a rough month, reports the National Law Journal. PepsiCo’s purified water brand, Aquafina, has cost it a pretty penny.
Charles Joyce and James Voigt of Wisconsin sued PepsiCo earlier this year for stealing their idea of bottling and selling purified water. They claim that they had confidential discussions with distributors about the idea in 1981 and that the distributors passed those trade secrets along to Pepsi. It sounds like a bit of a ridiculous lawsuit; PepsiCo calls their accusations “dubious.”
But the Wisconsin men won. They won big. They won $1.26 billion dollars.
How did they win? By default judgment. PepsiCo’s lawyers never responded to the complaint, and the judge awarded the Wisconsin plaintiffs a default judgment.
Why did the Pepsi people never respond? Meet PepsiCo legal secretary, Kathy Henry.
Firms everywhere are trying to keep expenses down. For secretaries and administrative assistants at Alston & Bird, this means that overtime is going to be a lot harder to come by. Last week, A&B informed its secretaries of changes in the firm’s overtime policy:
As you know, from time to time we review our HR policies and practices to determine if they continue to meet the needs of the firm and our employees. In our continuing effort to hold the line on expenses and minimize our overtime costs, the firm has made the decision to revise our overtime policy for our professional staff, secretaries, and paralegals. After review of our current policy, we found that there were two areas that were outdated and not consistent with what the law allows and what other professional service firms are doing. As a result, we have made two changes to our policy.
Alston & Bird just happened to figure out that its overtime policy was inconsistent with the law? Well, I’m glad the firm — the law firm — is clearing that up.
We’ll take a look at the legal inconsistency after the jump.
It’s been a while since a firm asked people to voluntarily fire themselves. Maybe with the economy getting better it’s time to dust that strategy off?
Apparently, that is what Crowell & Moring is hoping for. The firm just asked its staff to voluntarily help them get down to a 4 to 1 attorney to staff ratio:
Our goal remains to handle this necessary reduction in a humane and generous way. Accordingly, effective today, we are offering a voluntary opportunity for our support services employees to elect to resign from the firm in exchange for payment of six months of each employee’s annual salary. We are hopeful that this opportunity may be of interest to a number of our secretaries and will bring the firm closer to achieving its goal of an average lawyer to support services ratio of 4 to 1 across our offices. This voluntary package will be available through October 23. At the end of that period, we will reassess our staffing levels and determine whether involuntary reductions are necessary.
Six months severance is a nice package, especially for staff who don’t typically receive as much severance pay as attorneys. If you assume that the firm will not be offering six months to people that are “involuntarily” laid off after October 23rd, the package could be a pretty powerful motivator.
Of course, if there are still no jobs in six months, then does it really matter? If you are a rock star secretary maybe you should just roll the dice and try to hang on.
Tough decisions abound during a recession. Good luck, Crowell & Moring staff.
Read the full internal memo after the jump.
Last week, we told you that Wilson Sonsini froze staff salaries. Today, there is more pain being spread around the legal staffing world. The Recorder reports:
Fifty-eight staffers were cut Thursday, although no attorneys were let go, according to an all-hands memo from Cooley Chief Operating Officer Mark Pitchford.
“This reduction was conducted to eliminate pockets of staffing overcapacity throughout the firm,” wrote Pitchford.
Cooley laid off 62 staffers (and 52 attorneys) back in January. Last month, we reported on stealth layoffs that occurred at the firm throughout the summer.
Given the recent reductions in attorney workforce, it’s not that surprising that Cooley had an overcapacity of staff. But the math probably does not make it any easier for those that lost their jobs.
Good luck, former Cooley staffers.
Read the full firm memo after the jump.
It’s been a while since we’ve had any news about how legal secretaries and staffs are weathering the recession. Well, at least no news that pertains to secretaries who are potty trained and don’t care about CHARACTER. To the extent that firms are still looking to make cuts, it feels like they are more focused on more long term moves.
But that doesn’t mean that the domain of the legal secretary is drenched in milk and honey. Yesterday, Wilson Sonsini informed its staff that it was instituting a salary freeze:
To: Staff Employees
From: [Wilson Sonsini]
Date: September 22, 2009
Re: Staff Salaries
Earlier this year, in the midst of an uncertain global economic situation, the firm implemented a salary freeze for associates. The firm always has managed expenses carefully, and we’ve taken an even more cautious approach during the current downturn to ensure that our business remains strong and well positioned for the future. While there are early signs that the recession may be easing, it’s also clear that economic recovery will take some time. Given these factors, it is important to continue our fiscally conservative approach, and therefore the firm is extending the salary freeze to staff at this time.
Thank you for your understanding, and for your continued commitment to the firm.
Wait, Wilson Sonsini hadn’t frozen staff salaries already? Tipsters weigh in after the jump.
I’m sure you all remember the Stepford Secretary. She is the secretary that praised lawyers at her firm for their CHARACTER. She was fired, and then she lawyered up.
But the President’s speech on health care last night inspired her. Well, at least it inspired her to email Above the Law:
In his speech tonight the President made reference to the “character of our Country.” I chuckled and said “Watch it, Mr. President, using the word character got me fired.”
Tonight after sitting and watching the President’s address I thought it would be time to give you an update.
I went to [my firm] asking graciously for six months severance (approximately two weeks salary for each of my ten years there). The firm’s decision to terminate me for an attempt (albeit, poor judgment) at giving certain props to colleagues was not persecution enough. They denied my request (shocking) and offered a twisted view of both me and the reasons for my termination. Sadly, there is no hope of taking these well educated, uncouth individuals to Court. I just do not have the bank roll or emotional tolerance for the extended crap they will surely put me through. I know that my original statement came from a place of despair. For now, there is just a file containing numerous accounts of misconduct on the part of the company, and the facade continues.
We received a lot of tips about Winston & Strawn during the month of August. It seems like the firm had a busy month. We’ve reached out to the firm — multiple times — but haven’t heard anything back. But multiple sources report that Winston laid off around 20 associates over the month of August.
It is not surprising that the firm did not respond to us. Tipsters report that Winston has been extremely stealthy about its associate cuts. They laid people off over a long period of time, but never more than a few associates at any one time. One tipster explains it this way:
The layoffs for attorneys started in the Spring and they took breaks from it to keep under the radar. Same with the secretaries.
As we understand it, the associates let go were mid-level attorneys. They were told that the layoffs were for economic reasons.
Associates at Winston weren’t the only ones feeling the pain of being let go. After the jump, tipsters report that partners have been shown the door as well.
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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