Secretaries / Administrative Assistants

One of the more amusing law firm nicknames belongs to Weil Gotshal & Manges. As we noted a few years ago, some refer to the firm as “We’ll Getcha & Mangle Ya.”

Alas, the nickname is less funny in the wake of yesterday’s big layoff news. The firm announced it will be cutting 60 associates and 110 staffers from the payroll. Despite the generous six-month severance for associates, some probably feel like their legal careers have been mangled. The firm also plans to reduce the compensation of about 10 percent of its partners (roughly 30 out of 300, some income and some equity partners).

Let’s take a closer look at the layoffs and try to make sense of them….

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The Layoff Lady gets around…

At the end of May, my colleague David Lat wondered, “Are layoffs becoming daily news in Biglaw once again?” Given recent events — in particular, the reckoning at Weil — we think it’s now fair to answer that question with a resounding yes.

Today, we’ve got news that a Biglaw shop known for its strict dress code and its fervent recruiting of Supreme Court clerks has decided to conduct a second round of layoffs, mere months after serving a slew of staffers with their walking papers…

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Since the Supreme Court’s ruling in Fisher, the major affirmative action case, turned out to be something of a dud, the big legal story of the day is the news out of Weil Gotshal. The firm is conducting large layoffs of both attorneys and staff, as well as reducing partner pay.

Thus far, many of our recent layoff stories have involved staff layoffs, especially secretarial layoffs; relatively small numbers of affected individuals; and firms not in the tippy-top tier of Biglaw. So that’s what makes the Weil news so notable — and so frightening.

Weil is an elite firm, in both profits and prestige. The cuts it just announced affect lawyers, not just staff, and reach into the triple digits….

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We have previously discussed the advantages of voluntary buyouts over layoffs, especially stealth layoffs. 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.

Imagine you’re a legal secretary at one firm who’s married to a high-earning partner at a different firm. You work to keep yourself busy, especially since your kids are all grown, but you don’t need your job that badly. You might take a buyout package and retire a few years early so that one of your fellow secretaries, a single mother with two young kids, can put food on the table.

Voluntary programs are so much better than layoffs — which is why we were happy to hear that rumors of secretarial layoffs at one firm actually turned out to refer to a buyout program. A program with rather generous terms, in fact….

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Are layoffs becoming daily news in Biglaw once again? Today marks the fourth consecutive day that we have news of reductions to report.

The latest layoffs involve both lawyers and staff, based out of two large legal markets, New York and Washington, D.C….

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This past Sunday’s New York Times featured not just the Cincinnati IRS exposé, but also a depressing discussion about the job market. Here’s the upshot: “Unemployment is staying high despite the end of the recession because we are now in a historic transition. Because of automation, globalization, efficiency and other factors, we no longer need the share of people working that we have had in the past. With these trends moving in only one direction, it is clear that the job crisis is permanent and will not go away with better economic times.”

That’s the analysis of James B. Huntington, author of Work’s New Age: The End of Full Employment and What It Means to You (affiliate link). In the words of researcher Thomas W. Clark, another participant in the Times forum, “given the rise of the machines, human labor is worth less and less in the marketplace.”

You can see this trend playing out in the way that staff layoffs are spreading rapidly throughout large law firms. Today we have more layoff news to share….

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On yesterday’s post about layoffs at a major international law firm, one of my favorite commenters, “Successful Troll,” took note of our stock photo for such stories: “I feel sorry for the pretty blond woman in the picture. It seems she keeps going from firm to firm being laid off — probably 20 times already this year.”

It was funny, but also depressing. How much longer can layoffs, especially staff layoffs and “stealth” layoffs of lawyers, go on? Who is left to be laid off? Where are laid-off employees of law firms supposed to look for new jobs, in an environment in which it seems that all firms, including some very elite ones, are cutting headcount?

For now, these questions remain unanswered. Today we have more layoff news for you….

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Summer associates will soon be arriving at large law firms. So, to paraphrase Antoine Dodson, y’all need to hide yo screamers, hide yo sleazebags, and hide yo husband (or yo gun-toting boyfriend).

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….

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Mammas, don’t let your babies grow up to be legal secretaries. We’re hearing scattered and somewhat hard-to-confirm reports of lawyer layoffs at various firms — please email us or text us (646-820-8477) if you have news to share — but efforts to reduce the ranks of secretaries are open and notorious.

If you spin through our staff layoff coverage, you’ll see that numerous law firms have shrunk the size of their secretarial staffs. Some firms have done this the hard way, through layoffs, while others have taken the kinder and gentler route, through buyouts.

Today we can report that two leading law firms have jumped on the “voluntary separation” bandwagon. If you’re a recently displaced legal assistant looking for a new position, don’t bother applying to either of these places — one of which is shedding lawyers, too….

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* Happy Administrative Professionals’ Day! While we focus a lot on lawyers, judges, and law students, I’d like to take this opportunity to appreciate our legal staff audience — the secretaries, paralegals, clerks, recruiters, office managers, word processors, receptionists, and everyone else affiliated with the legal practice other than the J.D. crowd. Not only do you do great work, but you help keep this site running with your anonymous tips. Keep ‘em coming! [Above the Law]

* Why yes, I do want a Tumblr of GIFs about public defenders. [What the Public Defender]

* A mega-retailer with a reputation for ruthlessly destroying its competitors makes life difficult for anyone who has to subpoena them? No! [Associate's Mind]

* UVA College Republicans see a massive infringement of student rights in the administration’s decision that fraternities conclude pledging early as an anti-hazing measure. Republicans: Protecting your God-given right to create a naked pyramid since Abu Ghraib. [Cavalier Daily]

* “The Blogger as Public Intellectual.” See, we’re a lot more than dick jokes about law firms, people. [PrawfsBlawg]

* Of all the reasons to lock your cell phone, “To Avoid Arrest” is one of them. [Legal Juice]

* Biglaw explained: Clinical depression is contagious. [Law and More]

* SJL Attorney Search has acquired The Shannon Group, a Washington, D.C.-based career transition, coaching and talent development firm. [Wall Street Journal (press release)]

* Arrested Development is coming back soon! Check out this infographic that tells you which Arrested Development character you are. To the surprise of no one, I’m Lucille. Unfortunately, Barry Zuckercorn, Maggie Lizer, and Bob Loblaw aren’t options. [OK Gorgeous]

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