Layoffs

Ed. note: This is the latest installment in a series from Bruce MacEwen and Janet Stanton of Adam Smith Esq. and JDMatch. “Across the Desk” takes a thoughtful look at recruiting, career paths, professional development, human capital, and related issues. Some of these pieces have previously appeared, in slightly different form, on AdamSmithEsq.com.

One of the thorniest issues any leader has to deal with is telling senior-level underperformers that they’d be better off elsewhere. It calls on every skill in the manager’s bag of tricks, from financial analysis to subtler cultural and personality judgments, and accurate perspective on the impact on the organization overall of asking a high-profile person to leave.

To be honest, it’s also one of the most difficult challenges we deal with in advising firms about their paths forward. Although at times it’s crystal clear what needs to be done, far more often you have no such luxury of being able to shortcut analysis and judgment, and you have to work through all the potential interactions and repercussions to decide with some degree of confidence what to do. Then of course you actually have to do it. You’d be surprised — or maybe you wouldn’t — how often otherwise hard-headed and decisive leaders never quite get around to that part of it….

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Let’s not mince words: Patton Boggs is stuck in the muck. In the most recent Am Law 100 rankings, the firm showed a 15 percent decline in profits per partner — one of the biggest dips in the entire survey, contrasting with the modest growth that most of Biglaw enjoyed. Gross revenue also fell, by 6.5 percent.

The Am Law 100 rankings looked at 2012 performance compared to 2011 performance. Perhaps things have improved for Patton Boggs in 2013?

Alas, no. While many firms have resorted to voluntary buyouts or layoffs of support staff this year, few have laid off lawyers (at least not openly). But Patton Boggs has already been through two significant, open and notorious rounds of layoffs in 2013 to date, affecting not just staff but lawyers as well.

How is Patton Boggs trying to save itself, and will its plan work?

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As we get closer and closer to the Thanksgiving holiday, staff members and now attorneys — thanks, Patton Boggs — grow more and more worried about the possibility of their own impending doom. This week alone, we’ve seen one firm offer buyouts to employees and another firm hand out pink slips like candy.

And now, with just two weeks until Black Friday, we’ve got some news that’s sure to make employees’ lives at one firm just a little more dim.

Which Biglaw firm is offering voluntary buyouts to a significant chunk of its employees (rumored to be in the triple digits) this time around?

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It was just two weeks ago that we told you about the merger talks between Patton Boggs and Locke Lord. At the time, we wondered about redundancies between the two firms’ offices. We thought that “most jobs” would be safe, considering the fact that there were only three overlapping locations.

Well, it looks like we were dead wrong. Guess which firm just laid off both support staff and lawyers?

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Hot on the heels of the layoffs at Fried Frank, we’ve got the details on yet another Biglaw firm that’s tightening its belt. Perhaps Fried Frank’s layoffs can be excused by the fact that its profits per partner dropped by 16.8 percent year over year, according to the latest Am Law 100 rankings. The latest firm has no such excuse — its profits per partner increased by 7.8 percent from 2011 to 2012.

But apparently that increase was a little too modest, because the firm is now opting to kick its older employees to the curb in favor of the latest technological advances (just like every other firm).

Which one is offering voluntary buyouts to its employees in order to welcome our new computer overlords?

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November marks the beginning of the holiday season, and people are brainstorming about what they should be thankful for so they’ll have something thoughtful to say at the Thanksgiving dinner table. We’ve got a suggestion: you should be thankful that you’ve still got a job, because some of your colleagues aren’t so lucky.

Which Biglaw firm offered a significant number of employees a cornucopia of despair yesterday?

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Will that plant ever find a new home?

Law firms across the land are running tighter ships these days. Even if your firm breaks the $2 million mark in profits per partner, which is good enough to put it in the top quarter of the Am Law 100, there’s no reason to dilute your PPP unnecessarily.

Consider the venerable law firm of Debevoise & Plimpton, one of Biglaw’s most prestigious and profitable firms. Earlier this year, the firm parted ways with its trusts and estates practice, a move that was viewed in some quarters as designed to enhance profit.[1]

First they came for the T&E lawyers. Then they came for the legal secretaries and other support staff….

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This law school has a healthy approach to slimming down.

Layoffs continue to march through law firms. We reported yet another layoff story earlier today.

But now we have some happy news to share, regarding potential layoffs that were averted. A law school that was contemplating junior-faculty layoffs fortunately won’t have to go through with the cuts it had been contemplating.

Which law school achieved this feat? And what lessons might it have to offer to other law schools that are attempting to rightsize themselves in this challenging environment for legal education?

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Back in 2011, we wondered if on-shore outsourcing was the Biglaw wave of the future. Given the recent cavalcade of “adjustments,” “reductions,” “reorganizations,” and “eliminations” affecting staff headcount at firms across the country, we think our prediction may be coming to pass.

These days, despite news of record numbers in terms of gross revenue, it seems we can’t even make it through one week without news of layoffs coming from within Biglaw’s hallowed halls. In fact, last week brought even more lamentable news from large law firms (on top of the double-digit IT outsourcing at one top firm).

Which Biglaw firm is pink-slipping employees en masse in favor of outsourcing this time?

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Of all the different Biglaw constituencies, legal secretaries have probably suffered the most in terms of recent layoffs. In this technological age, lawyers do their own typing, don’t give dictation as much, and can use voice-recognition software when they do. Shorthand isn’t as valuable a skill as it used to be.

So what should a legal secretary facing a voluntary buyout or an involuntary layoff do with himself? Assuming he’s not ready to take the money and run (or retire), he should find new employment. And that might require obtaining new skills, ones that are in greater demand in 2013.

Some might tell a displaced legal secretary, “I just want to say one word to you. Just one word. Technology.” If technology taketh away jobs, it can also giveth, right?

Well, not so fast. Even techie types are getting laid off, as the latest layoff news demonstrates….

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