Some say that San Diego has the best weather in the continental United States. But it seems that the climate there might be less than hospitable for large law firms.
Last year, Baker & McKenzie closed its office in San Diego, finding the metropolis didn’t live up to its nickname of “America’s finest city.” And now we have news of another Biglaw firm shutting down its S.D. outpost.
It’s not on the scale of the massive Weil layoffs, but the closing could cause a significant number of lawyers and staff to lose their jobs. Here are the details….
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….
This year has seen a grim procession of law firm layoff news, which seemed to pick up momentum just yesterday with the Weil Gotshal lawyer layoffs and the Jones Day staff cuts. Are we looking at a 2008 redux, or is this just a bump in the road as the economy makes its slow recovery?
The Weil news was particularly stunning. If any firm seemed poised to thrive in the post-recession “new normal,” it was Weil, with its diversified practices and hegemonic restructuring group. Alas, with yesterday’s news of Weil’s decision to cut 7% of its associates and slash annual compensation for 10% of its partners by hundreds of thousands of dollars, it is clear that Biglaw job security is a thing of the past.
Let’s explore the reasons behind law firm layoffs, review a chronology of recent reductions, and obtain your views through a reader survey….
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…
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….
* I would totally go see “Jaws 2013: Lawyers On The Beach.” [The Legal Geeks]
* Downey Brand laid off support staff this week. Man, I thought that laundry detergent was recession-proof… oh, wait, I’m being told that Downey Brand is law firm, a very well-scented law firm. [ABA Journal]
* It’s illegal to burn you ex’s clothes? Bah. Next you’re going to tell me you can’t set fire to his car. [Legal Juice]
* Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance’s inability to prosecute his political rivals makes it harder for him to do whatever he wants by threatening his political rivals with prosecution. That’s not exactly a bad thing. [Simple Justice]
* Oh look, the FAA might finally acknowledge that making people turn off their electronic devices during takeoff and landing is a stupidrule that has absolutely no bearing whatsoever on flight safety. [Wall Street Journal]
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….
Sorry, folks — we couldn’t make it two full weeks without a story about law firm layoffs. We continue to hear reports about them, which we publish as we get sufficient corroboration for each one. If you have information to share, please email us or text us (646-820-8477; texts only, not a voice line).
Thus far, layoffs have hit support staff the hardest. Junior staffers often bear the brunt, since some of the layoffs are seniority-based.
But senior people, including law firm management, are not immune to the cuts. One law firm recently laid off two executives, along with about twenty staffers…
Are staff attorneys closer to support staff or associates? They fall somewhere in between. They have law degrees and practice law, but they don’t enjoy the pay and partnership prospects of associates.
And staff attorneys are more susceptible to layoffs. Although we’ve heard reports of associate and partner layoffs — which are definitely under-reported, due to the stealthy way in which they’re generally conducted, often with confidentiality agreements — staffers are getting hit harder. And that includes staff attorneys.
We now bring you word of one leading law firm’s double-digit cuts to its staff attorney program….
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 seven years. You can reach them by email: email@example.com.
It’s that time of year again when JDs are starting to apply for 2L summer jobs and 2L summers are deciding which practice area to focus on.
For those JDs with an interest in potentially lateraling to or transferring to Asia in the future, please feel free to reach out to Kinney for advice on firm choices, interviewing and practice choices, relating to future marketability in Asia, or for a general discussion on your particular Asia markets of interest. This is of course a free of cost service for those who some years in the future may be our future industry contacts or perhaps even clients.
For some years now Kinney’s Asia head, Evan Jowers, has been formally advising Harvard Law students with such questions, as the Asia expert in Harvard Law’s “Ask The Experts Market Program” each summer and fall, with podcasts and scheduled phone calls. This has been an enjoyable and productive experience for all involved.
Whether you’re fresh off the bar exam or hitting your stride after hanging a shingle a few years ago, one thing’s for certain: independent attorneys who start a solo or small-law practice live with a certain amount of stress.
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