In the dark days of 2009, we had frequent occasion to discuss the difference between “layoffs” and “performance-based dismissals.” Layoffs are generally understood as economically motivated, large-scale reductions in headcount, while performance-based dismissals involve specific individuals being asked to leave for cause. (Some see this as the difference being getting laid-off versus getting fired, although I’ve sometimes heard layoffs referred to as firings.)
The distinction can be a fine one. Unless cuts are made based on factors like seniority or practice area, layoffs often target weaker performers, so they can look a lot like performance-based terminations. There’s no bright-line cutoff, in numerical terms, for what constitutes a round of layoffs. And you can’t let firm characterization control, since many firms find it in their reputational interest to deny layoffs (unless the cuts are so large as to be undeniable; see, e.g., last week’s Weil Gotshal layoffs).
Today we bring you a story that captures this ambiguity. Several lawyers and staffers, totaling a number believed to be in the double digits, have been asked to leave a firm — but the firm denies that it’s conducting “layoffs.” We’ll present the facts and let you be the judge….
Are legal secretaries the buggy-whip makers of Biglaw? If you lose your job as a legal secretary, is it worth it trying to find a new secretarial position, or should you get new training and try to switch fields?
The latter option might be better, at least if you are still early enough in your career. Check out this interesting (but depressing) article from the Wall Street Journal, Why Legal Secretaries Can’t Find Jobs. One of the secretaries mentioned in the article is still looking for a new permanent position some four years after he was Lathamed.
And, sadly, the layoffs of legal secretaries show no sign of abating. On the heels of the Weil Gotshal layoffs — in which 60 associates and 110 staffers, including 60 legal secretaries, lost their jobs — we have more cuts to report….
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….
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….
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….
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….
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….
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….
Hey, have you read Above the Law for like one single minute in the past month? If so, you probably know that we’re having this big blogger conference on March 14th at the Yale Club. Yeah, the Yale Club. You’ll be able to recognize me: I’ll be the only big… blogger guy surreptitiously holding a can of crimson spray-paint.
Speaking of coming, you should come. We’ve got CLE and all that. Click here to buy tickets to get CLE credit for listening to bloggers scream about stuff on the internet.
To refresh your memory, details on the panel that I’m moderating — almost entirely sober, mind you — follow.
My panel is called Blogs as Agents of Change, and we’re going to talk about whether all of these spilled pixels are actually making a difference. You know my view… just ask Lawrence Mitchell, but here are the panelists:
So you spent a considerable amount of time courting, selling and maybe even doing some friendly stalking of that attractive lateral partner candidate with a sizable book. After he or she ignored your emails and didn’t return your calls, a few weeks go by and you read a press release in the legal media announcing the recent move to a competing firm.
Rats. Another one got away from you. You cringe when you consider how much time was spent in meetings that did not bear fruit. Your heart aches when recall how you were led to believe this was a marriage made in heaven.
You have been rejected.
The sting of rejection is painful, even for fancy law firms. But you need to find a way that you can turn this disappointment into a legitimate learning experience.
No, this isn’t a pre-party before we come back next fall for the real thing. This IS the real thing. Quinn Emanuel is pushing the envelope on recruiting. The party is now. This is when you meet the partners and associates face to face. This is when we begin the dance that could land you an offer for your second summer BEFORE school starts in the fall.
First: You come to the party. Second: If you like us, you send your resume after June 1, 2014. Third: If we like each other, you get an offer.
We’re not waiting for fall. We’re not doing the twenty minute thing. This party is the real thing!
We hope you’ll join us, and look forward to meeting you.
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