Staff Layoffs

Last month, Stroock & Stroock & Lavan named a new partner and special counsel. Congratulations to these five worthy lawyers on their promotions.

Alas, not all the news coming out of Stroock is this happy. We’ve just learned that the firm is planning to cut the ranks of its legal secretaries….

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These are not outliers. They’re not anomalies. It is something that’s happening quietly in many, many firms in the industry.

– Zeughauser Group consultant Kent Zimmermann, commenting on the stealth layoffs that have been going on at Biglaw firms around the country. In fact, according to his sources — all managing partners — at least three major firms will soon be conducting another round of layoffs.

Chief Justice Roberts: he ain’t evolving.

* In light of Chief Justice Roberts’s historic vote to uphold Obamacare, should we expect JGR to be more liberal going forward? According to Jeffrey Toobin, author of The Oath (affiliate link), “Do not expect a new John Roberts. Expect the conservative he has always been.” [Talking Points Memo via How Appealing]

* Law firm staff layoffs: they’re not just an American thing. Slaughter and May is dropping the ax on 28 secretaries. [Roll On Friday]

* “[A]ny robot or high school graduate can calculate numbers in a matrix to arrive at the highest possible sentence. But it takes a Judge — a man or woman tempered by experience in life and law — to properly judge another human being’s transgressions.” [Justice Building Blog]

* Professor Dershowitz’s $4 million Cambridge mansion? Robert Wenzel is not impressed: “if I lived in that house, I would want to attack Iran and most of the rest of the world, also.” [Economic Policy Journal]

* A man sues a strip club, alleging that a stripper ruptured his bladder when she slid down a pole and onto his abdomen. Ouch. [Legally Weird / Findlaw]

* Still on the subject of Torts, two attractive blonde sisters walk into a bar — and discuss who can be held liable if a man suffers a heart attack during a threesome. Video after the jump….

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In light of the possible trouble that may lie ahead for large law firms, it should come as no surprise that some of them are battening down the hatches. One way to prepare for a tough economic climate is to reduce one’s expenses. And one way to reduce expenses is to conduct layoffs, of attorneys or of staff.

But the work, the work that generates revenue for firms, still needs to get done. One way of reducing expenses while still getting all the work done is to outsource certain functions to an outside service provider. This effectively gets job positions “off the books” of the law firm, which no longer has to pay salaries or benefits for the lawyers or staffers in question; the law firm just has to pay the vendor. (This could be viewed as a form of financing; as you may recall, cash-strapped Dewey used vendors for many services — vendors who are now its creditors in bankruptcy.)

Let’s learn about the latest firm that is reducing the ranks of its staff in favor of relying on an outside company….

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* Patton Boggs partner Benjamin Ginsberg serves as the Mitt Romney campaign’s top lawyer, and he’s taking flak for GOP rules revisions that have been likened to “killing a fly with a sledgehammer.” [Am Law Daily]

* “I am still shocked that I did everything right and find myself on the brink of destitution.” This just in from the Things Everyone Already Knew Desk: even law firms have been hit hard by the recession. [Washington Times]

* The lead lawyer in the inquisition against Madam Justice Lori Douglas turned in a resignation letter. Perhaps he grew tired of being part of judicial farce that’s spread wider than Her Honor’s legs. [Canadian Press]

* Penn State Dickinson School of Law might not be losing its accreditation, but it will be reducing enrollment and consolidating all first-year classes at its University Park campus. [Central Penn Business Journal]

* A would-be law student wants to know if he has a good chance of getting into a top 20 school with a low 150s LSAT and an average GPA. You’ll get in everywhere you apply! [Law Admissions Lowdown / U.S. News]

* Roger Fisher, Harvard Law School professor and co-author of “Getting to Yes,” RIP. [WSJ Law Blog]

The fable of the ant and the grasshopper may have lessons for the world of large law firms.

As regular readers of Above the Law well know, most major law firms — with a few notable exceptions — did not pay spring or mid-year bonuses in 2012. Our associate readers generally viewed this news with disappointment, while our partner readers had less of a problem with it.

But perhaps even associates should have been supportive of their firms’ decisions not to pay spring bonuses. Storm clouds are gathering over the law firm world. So says a recent report by Biglaw’s biggest bankers, over at Citigroup….

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If you’re a lawyer who managed to make your way into a large law firm, congratulations. For attorneys, the world of Biglaw seems to be somewhat stable. Revenue and profits are up by modest amounts, and it has been a while since we’ve seen major lawyer layoffs (setting aside the collapse of Dewey & LeBoeuf, of course).

Things have not been so happy for staff. Over the past year or so, we’ve covered staff layoffs at several prominent Biglaw firms. Many of these reductions appear to be fueled by either outsourcing or improvements in technology that allow firms to get by with fewer staff.

The latest firm with news of staff layoffs — and unconfirmed reports of lawyer layoffs — is Fish & Richardson. Fish is a leading intellectual property shop, and the world of IP litigation certainly seems busy these days. But maybe it’s not busy enough?

Let’s get the details on the recent cuts at Fish….

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The law firm of Fulbright & Jaworski is a leader in many fields — at least 31 of them, according to the latest Chambers rankings. In addition to recognizing Fulbright as a leading firm in 31 categories, the influential Chambers guide also named 99 Fulbright lawyers as leading individuals in their practice areas.

Fulbright excels in other areas well — for example, social media. It is one of the few major law firms that knows how to use Twitter.

Alas, these days the firm is also a leader in a less appealing arena: staff layoffs. Last October, the firm laid off at least a dozen employees.

And now it seems that more reductions might be on the way. Could Fulbright be trying to slim itself down in advance of a merger with another firm?

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(And could a merger be in the works?)

John Edwards

* What information Dewey know about the ongoing criminal investigation that’s being conducted by the Manhattan District Attorney’s office? From the sound of it, ex-chairman Steven Davis’s LeBoeuf may be cooked. [Am Law Daily (reg. req.)]

* Dewey know when to admit defeat? A spokesman for the failing firm has insisted that it’s “not formally closed.” Great, because that’ll certainly make it easier to prepare for the involuntary bankruptcy filing that’s in the works. [Reuters]

* Meanwhile, D&L amended its WARN notice with the New York State Department of Labor to raise its total employee count by 100, for a grand total of 533 — 433 of whom have been laid off thus far. [Bloomberg]

* “The defense wasn’t sexy, but the defense doesn’t want sexy. It wants an acquittal.” John Edwards’s legal team rested its case yesterday without calling any of the major players involved to testify. [Associated Press]

* Show me your papers: the California Supreme Court will be deciding whether a law license should be granted to an illegal immigrant who’s already been certified by the State Bar of California. [Los Angeles Times]

* Thank you, Jesus! Utah’s S.J. Quinney College of Law now has an additional $4M in its collection plate to put toward a new building thanks to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. [National Law Journal]

Based on recent remarks by current and former leadership at Dewey & LeBoeuf, it seems that the firm is going to end with a whimper, not a bang. The current plan apparently involves no bankruptcy filing or dissolution vote, but just the defection of one partner after another, until nobody is left.

And the partner departures continue. As we mentioned in Morning Docket, for example, Greenberg Traurig just picked up about 50 Dewey lawyers over in Poland, to form Greenberg Traurig Grzesiak. Meanwhile, here in New York, Sutherland Asbill & Brennan has added insurance litigatrix Ellen Dunn, former co-head of D&L’s U.S. litigation practice, to its ranks.

While the partner stars realign themselves, back here on earth, last night brought bad news for former Dewey associates and staff….

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