I like paying attention to what consultants say about the Biglaw market. It offers a fun little insight into what people think partners want to hear.
The ABA Journal reports that consultants at Hildebrandt think partners want to hear that they can still fire people — lots of people:
Writing for the blog of law firm consultant Hildebrandt, Lisa Smith makes an argument that outsourcing, efficiencies and increased hiring of staff attorneys could mean a different mix of staff and associate lawyers—and an overall reduction in head count in the next five to seven years.
Hilderbrandt expects an overall reduction of headcount of 17,500. But not partners! Just associates and staff attorneys…
Earlier this month, we reported on staff layoffs in the Los Angeles and Dallas offices of Jones Day. Now we’re hearing about additional layoffs at the firm, which raise the question: Could staff layoffs at JD perhaps be a firm-wide phenomenon, even if the firm only confesses to what it’s confronted with?
Yesterday the Cleveland Plain Dealer reported that Jones Day cut an unspecified number of non-lawyer employees in its Cleveland office. The firm cited the old “technology allows us to be more efficient” rationale, which has been widely invoked by law firms when they cut stuff:
[T]he 117-year-old firm issued a statement saying that “universal adoption of smart phones, voicemail and email enables (and requires) lawyers to be more self-sufficient,” reducing the need to have as many support staff to perform duties now done directly by lawyers.
“Although we deeply regret the need for this action, these changes preserve our ability to best serve clients and remain one of the leading global law firms,” the company said.
[M]any of our peer competitors will come out weaker, not stronger. They may well protect their short-term financial metrics (although it will be interesting to see how we fare vs. the firms that slashed and burned), but they will pay a long-term price. Some of it is obvious: Firing staff and associates, or freezing associate salaries, or doing away with summer programs entirely makes it very clear to those groups that either that firm was not efficiently organized and managed before this crisis, or its first interest is protecting the owners’ incomes, not the various constituents that depend on the firm. While that is hardly un-American, it does tend to focus people’s minds on the fact that their firm clearly does not have their interests at the top of its agenda.
So, if Jones Day were to fire staff, would that make it “very clear” that JD isn’t efficiently organized?
The pace of law firm layoffs has apparently slowed to a crawl. We’ll go weeks between job losses at large law firms (that we know of). But, here and there, some people are still getting pushed out as firms retool for the new economy.
Sadly, legal secretaries at Dewey & LeBoeuf became the latest casualties of a layoff cycle that seems very close to its end. The firm-wide memo went out earlier today:
Beginning last week and concluding today the firm implemented a reduction in force impacting approximately 30 administrative staff positions in its Los Angeles, New York and Washington, D.C., offices.
Nobody wants to be the last person KIA in a war, and nobody wants to be laid off at the tail end of a recession. Why did Dewey make the move this late (hopefully) in the recession?
So the firm has returned to the old fail-safe option: layoffs. Am Law Daily reports that the firm laid off approximately 20 attorneys and 20 staffers.
The firm-wide email from Seyfarth Shaw describes the layoffs as needed to better position the firm to take advantage of “opportunities” in the market:
We see opportunities for creating or strengthening client relationships in all of our departments; however, we also know that we must approach these opportunities with the most effective use of our people and their skills.
As a result, we implemented today a separation of approximately 20 attorneys and approximately 20 staff members from a total of about 1,500 people nationwide. In some cases, these decisions were made to better match current or anticipated workloads; others were made as a result of our annual performance management process for attorneys. The separations were spread across multiple offices and practice groups. We have talked to each person affected prior to the distribution of this e-mail.
One Seyfarth Shaw tipster who still has a job told us that they preferred layoffs of some people over additional salary cuts for everybody.
Clearly, we’ve moved well beyond the “survivor’s guilt” stage of Biglaw layoffs. At this point, people are just trying to hang on.
Read the full Seyfarth layoff memo, after the jump.
Fish & Richardson is conducting layoffs, another indication that IP work is not a safe haven during the economic storm.
The firm would not respond to our requests for comment, but a firm wide email sent to Fish associates confirmed that 30 support staffers were let go this week:
Today, Fish & Richardson is reducing the size of our staff by notifying 30 support staff that they will no longer be employed by the firm. Affected employees are in eight of our U.S. offices and in several administrative departments.
We thank all of these employees for their service to the firm. We know that this will be a difficult time for them, and we will assist them through this transition with a severance program. Our people are our greatest asset, and so we take these steps only after thoughtful consideration.
The firm wide memo did not mention anything about associate layoffs. That may be because the firm is also conducting stealth layoffs of associates.
[I]t is with regret that we announce that the firm will be downsizing our associate, legal support, and administrative ranks, with 45 attorneys and 68 staff directly affected. Members and staff managers will meet with their teams today and tomorrow to inform them of the details of this decision. Please know that the firm is extremely grateful to all of the affected employees for their contributions, and we will work with them and provide resources to ease their transitions.
In light of that news, the salary freeze and bonus news for those who are left doesn’t really sting that much:
[W]e will not be making associate step salary increases this year, but we will be paying out bonuses based on the criteria and structure developed by the Associate Bonus Program Steering Committee and announced last fall (additional details to follow shortly). Legal support and administrative staff will not receive merit bonuses in January, but the firm will be making profit-sharing contributions in the spring to all eligible plan participants equal to 9.5 percent of their eligible compensation, as we have in previous years.
Best of luck to the 113 people suddenly out of work. Keep your heads up.
Check out the full firm statement, after the jump.
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We currently have a number of active openings for associate roles at US and UK firms in HK / China, Singapore and two new in-house openings. As always, please feel free to reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org in order to get details of current openings in Asia, as well as to discuss the Asia markets in general and what we expect for openings later this year. Our Evan Jowers and Robert Kinney will be in Beijing the week of March 25 and Evan Jowers will be in Hong Kong the week of April 1, if you would like to meet them in person.
The US associate openings we have in law firms are in the usual areas of M&A, cap markets, FCPA / white collar litigation, finance, and project finance. The most urgent of our top tier (top 15 US or magic circle) law firm openings in Asia (among many other firm openings that we have in Asia) are as follows:
• 2nd to 5th year mandarin fluent M&A associates needed in Beijing and Hong Kong at several firms;
• Korean fluent 2nd to 4th year cap markets associate needed in Hong Kong;
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• 2nd to 4th year M&A / cap markets mix associate needed in Singapore.
The last time I flapped my wings your way, I tried to make at least enough noise about your mobile phone to make you more than a little bit uncomfortable. I hope I did. If enough of us become anxious enough about the known and unknown unknowns and knowns in our mobile phones, then we can start making wise decisions about how to manage that information and its resultant investigations.
Today, I’d like to put a finer point on the last installment’s topic by asking a question that seemed to catch most attendees off-guard at a conference panel that I moderated last week: is there discoverable personal information in a mobile app? Our panelists’ answer was a uniform “yes” with one stating that, if he had to choose only one type of data that he could discover from a mobile phone, he’d choose app data. Why? Because there’s simply so much of it and because almost all of it is objective – not just user-created like an email – but machine-tracked like GPS, usage duration, log in and log out times, browsed web addresses, browsed actual addresses. Also, most of us seem to have the idea that data doesn’t actually “stick” to our mobile devices the way it “sticks” to our hard drives. Maybe there’s a disconnect based on the fact that our phones are mobile so we assume the data is mobile to?
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