Welcome to BACK TO THE FUTURE. In this occasional ATL feature, we’ll step into a time machine and take a look at what the legal profession looked like at some point in the past.
In a post about staff layoffs at Fried Frank, a commenter drew our attention to this fascinating 1990 article from the New York Times. It seems that the commenter was trying to challenge the recent claim by firm chair Valerie Ford Jacob that the firm has never laid off attorneys. The NYT piece — by David Margolick, former national legal correspondent for the Times, now at Portfolio (and also one of Kash’s journalism professors at NYU) — mentions Fried Frank as a firm that may have engaged in “stealth layoffs.”
Margolick’s article doesn’t use the term “stealth layoffs,” but the phenomenon it describes is essentially identical to what we’ve been reporting in the pages of ATL lately. The article begins:
They were the legal profession’s gilded generation, an army of lawyers without limits. As law students, they were wined and dined and wooed by the most prestigious law firms in New York. Once hired, they began settling into a frantic but fantastically lucrative life. It was a life of glamour, prestige and, they assumed, stability.
Now, only a few years later, dozens of these lawyers have had a crash course in the realities of modern Wall Street practice. For the first time in their lives – lives of success atop success – they find themselves in an unusual position. They have been fired.
As the sour corporate climate reaches large law firms in New York and to a lesser degree cities like Los Angeles and Chicago, a bubble has burst. With business down, particularly in corporate work, real estate, and mergers and acquisitions, several of the most famous law firms have dismissed substantial numbers of lawyers, particularly those in the early years of their careers.
This article could have been written yesterday. But it was actually written over 18 years ago; the dateline is August 12, 1990. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
More excerpts and discussion — including a brief comment from Margolick, plus information about what junior associates earned back in 1990 — after the jump.