Secretaries / Administrative Assistants

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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Would you pack it all in if offered a lot of money?

This isn’t your father’s Davis Polk. The venerable firm, known for uber-white shoes and super-blue-chip clients, is changing.

(Let’s hope the firm maintains its commitment to hotness in hiring. Someone has to care about beauty in Biglaw, right?)

Under managing partner Tom Reid, DPW has become energized, entrepreneurial, and expansionary. Since Reid took the reins two years ago, the firm has pushed into new areas and gone on a lateral partner hiring spree — a sign that DPW is no longer waiting for work to come its way, but seeking out business more actively.

So maybe it shouldn’t be shocking to learn that DPW, given this growing focus on the bottom line, is following the trend of offering buyouts to reduce the ranks of support staff….

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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….

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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….

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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….

(Note the UPDATE after the jump.)

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