Staff Layoffs

Would you pack it all in for generous severance?

Many longtime observers of the legal profession argue that it’s not what it once was and that it’s increasingly focused on the bottom line. But even when trying to improve the bottom line, many law firms go about it in a kindler, gentler manner. Traces of Biglaw’s gentility remain.

Today we have news of another firm that’s reducing its ranks — not through layoffs, but through generous voluntary buyout packages….

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“The role of the traditional ‘legal secretary’ is rapidly changing,” one secretary recently told us. “Major law firms are full of career secretaries with 20 to 25 years of service, but younger attorneys don’t need the same assistance. You will see that many firms are adopting a secretarial team/services center model which increases the secretary/attorney ratio from 1:3 to 1:5, 1:6, 1:7 or more. At my former firm, it was 1:10. Honest.”

“Paralegals are in trouble too,” this source added. “First-year associates need something to do. I am ranting now.”

This tipster (and several others) told us about yet another law firm conducting layoffs, which we confirmed with the firm….

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Firms generally celebrate when they make lateral hires. They trumpet the new arrivals with press releases, invoking themes of growth, expansion, and an enhanced ability to serve clients.

For folks who are already at a firm, however, could lateral hiring have a downside? Could it possibly result in layoffs of existing employees?

Our latest layoff story raises this possibility….

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We almost made it, but not quite. We almost experienced a week, albeit a shortened one, without layoff news. (Our last layoff story came out before the long holiday weekend.)

The latest cuts are significant, into the double digits. Let’s find out which firm is reducing headcount and by how much….

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Earlier this year, K&L Gates generated some (generally positive) press by issuing an unusually detailed disclosure of its firm financials. The report reflected a reassuringly conservative financial position, with zero bank debt and limited retirement-plan obligations (a trouble spot for many other law firms).

It looks like K&L Gates is keeping to its conservatism. It’s trimming its headcount in D.C. and Seattle, presumably to reduce expenses….

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Back in July, following the news of the possible purge of junior faculty at Seton Hall and the staff massacre at McGeorge, we wondered: “Which law school will be next?” With law school applications still in free fall, something, somewhere, had to give, and it certainly wasn’t going to be beautiful buildings, the price of tuition, the number of tenured professors, or their similarly splendid salaries.

No, the easiest way to save money — $4.4 million of it — is by dropping the unimportant human weight, and the most expendable souls seem to hail from the adjunct faculty and staff ranks at the latest law school to conduct layoffs. Which esteemed academy of legal education could it be?

We’ll give you a clue. The school is no stranger to controversy, seeing as it served as the origin of the very first law school lawsuit over deceptive employment statistics ever filed….

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Were the layoffs at Weil Gotshal the start of a Biglaw trend? You be the judge. In the days and weeks after the Weil winnowing, Jones Day “eliminated” about 65 staff positions, Goodwin Procter shuttered its San Diego office, 16 secretaries were the victims of “reductions” at Winston & Strawn, WilmerHale allegedly conducted stealth attorney layoffs in its IP litigation department, and Davis Polk offered support staff some beautiful buyouts. Heck, even LexisNexis and BARBRI decided to get into the layoffs game.

Today, just as we roll into the weekend, we’ve got even more layoff news. One of the biggest law firms in Connecticut, one that last conducted layoffs at the start of the recession, is handing out walking papers to as many as 40 of its attorneys and staff members. Which firm, and why?

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One Liberty Plaza: a tower of dark secrets?

It’s official: Cleary Gottlieb is no longer boring. The elite and esteemed firm is now exciting as well.

In the past few months, Cleary has generated enough drama to fuel a law firm soap opera — think “All My Associates” or “The Biglaw and the Beautiful” (on second thought, save the latter title for Davis Polk). Cleary has witnessed a mysterious partner departure, support staff vanishing into the ether, and a summer associate dismissed due to his disturbing past.

Yesterday, the drama at One Liberty Plaza continued. A terminated employee rose from the cyber-grave to haunt the living — before he was electronically exorcised by the powers-that-be….

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Would you pack it all in if offered a lot of money?

This isn’t your father’s Davis Polk. The venerable firm, known for uber-white shoes and super-blue-chip clients, is changing.

(Let’s hope the firm maintains its commitment to hotness in hiring. Someone has to care about beauty in Biglaw, right?)

Under managing partner Tom Reid, DPW has become energized, entrepreneurial, and expansionary. Since Reid took the reins two years ago, the firm has pushed into new areas and gone on a lateral partner hiring spree — a sign that DPW is no longer waiting for work to come its way, but seeking out business more actively.

So maybe it shouldn’t be shocking to learn that DPW, given this growing focus on the bottom line, is following the trend of offering buyouts to reduce the ranks of support staff….

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Last week, we wrote about reductions to the ranks of lawyers and staff at WilmerHale. We noted that the cuts, made in connection with twice-annual performance reviews, seemed to focus on IP litigation and on the Boston and Palo Alto offices.

Today we bring you additional information about the reductions, which look a lot like stealth layoffs. They seem to be more widespread, in terms of offices and practice areas, than previously reported.

And they might be due to some earlier overhiring, reflected in an interesting email we received….

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