The legal profession is not what it once was. It seems like every week, we’re writing about the same topics, over and over again: tumbling profits, partner departures, and layoffs. Biglaw’s focus on the bottom line is even sharper than in years past, and that means that when firms are hurting for cash, the first thing they’ll cut is “excess” personnel.
Not so fast, though, because to our knowledge, this leading law firm isn’t desperately seeking dollars, and it’s not conducting layoffs just yet, either — instead, generous buyout packages are being offered…
When a Biglaw firm gets a new chairman, you can be relatively sure that things are going to change, especially if the firm is in the middle of the pack in terms of size and profitability.
Sure, the firm might have been happy being in its Goldilocks position before, but this is the New Normal. Maybe being not too big, but not too small just isn’t going to work anymore.
This firm may have the urge to merge — it’s already spoken to “three or four” potential partners. As we know, with mergers come reductions in redundancies, and it seems like this firm is looking to slim down to be a more attractive mate.
Which firm are we talking about, and how many heads are expected to roll with its planned cuts?
As more and more people discover that law school is not the “get rich quick” scheme that they once thought it was, applications continue to plummet. As of late January, law school applications were down 13.7 percent from where they were in 2013. The loss of student revenue is killing the bottom line at some law schools, and members of their administrations don’t like it one bit.
These ivory tower inhabitants seem terrified and are reacting accordingly, having been forced to deal with the dearth of applicants and enrollees in all sorts of ways. Some law schools are doing the right thing and lowering tuition in the hopes of luring students to their once hallowed halls.
Others are hacking and slashing away at their faculty and staff, just like law firms. First came news of the potential purge of junior faculty at Seton Hall (which was fortunately averted). Next came the staff massacre at McGeorge. Then Thomas Jefferson started handing out pink slips, and all hell broke loose.
Which law school is the latest to announce a possible pruning of its ranks? We’ll give you a hint. This law school is located in New York, a state with 15 law schools to choose from, several of which have been sued over their allegedly deceptive employment statistics…
(Please note the multiple UPDATES added to this post.)
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?
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?
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.
First they came for the T&E lawyers. Then they came for the legal secretaries and other support staff….
You’d probably pack up too if you were in this secretary’s shoes.
Voluntary buyouts for support staff are going viral within Biglaw — and that’s a good thing, at least compared to the alternative of layoffs. As we’ve previously observed, “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.”
Whether you should accept or decline your firm’s buyout depends on many factors. What kind of savings or other assets do you have? How generous is the package being offered? Do you have a spouse who still works? Do you have dependents who rely upon your income?
We heard from one retired legal secretary in response to our recent request for volunteers willing to discuss why they took or didn’t take a buyout. You can see why this secretary entered early retirement, due to an enviable financial position and a delicious package….
Say hello to ‘Buyout Box,’ which we use in lieu of ‘Layoff Lady’ when covering voluntary retirement programs.
This past spring, McKenna Long & Aldridge made it into the Am Law 100, the nation’s 100 largest law firms by revenue. McKenna achieved this feat by posting an impressive 23 percent jump in gross revenue.
Now that it’s in the big leagues, McKenna is following the lead of other Biglaw firms by trying to get smaller (and more efficient). Like so many other top firms, it seeks to reduce its secretarial staff through voluntary buyouts….
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….
* Since summer’s start, Patton Boggs has been leaking lawyers like a sieve. Thus far, 22 partners and 11 associates have defected from the firm to Holland & Knight, Jackson Lewis, Arent Fox, and WilmerHale. [Blog of Legal Times]
* Considering the deadly force choke American health care reform legislation has supposedly put on employers, perhaps more lawyers ought to consider becoming Jedi masters of the Affordable Care Act. [Daily Business Review]
* The new normal for the ivory tower: Law schools are tackling falling applications by “voluntarily” decreasing their class sizes, or by “voluntarily” offering faculty and staff buyouts. [Wall Street Journal]
* But look on the bright side, professors, the ABA wants to amend its accreditation standards to save your jobs and offer greater protections. Too bad its unwilling to do the same for students. [ABA Journal]
* If you’ve been swindling clients for long enough, the law school you donated money to will try to scrub your name off its walls. That is what’s happening now at IU-McKinney Law. [National Law Journal]
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.
Ed. note: The Asia Chronicles column is authored by Kinney Recruiting. Kinney has made more placements of U.S. associates, counsels and partners in Asia than any other recruiting firm in each of the past six years. You can reach them by email: [email protected].
Since late last year, things have been booming in Hong Kong / China in cap markets, especially Hong Kong IPOs. M&A deal flow has recently been getting a bit stronger as well. Although one can’t predict such things with any certainty, all signs are pointing to a banner entire 2014 for the top end US corporate and cap markets practices in Hong Kong / China. This is not really new news, as its been the feeling most in the market have had for a few months now and things continue to look good.
The head of our Asia practice, Evan Jowers, has been in Hong Kong for about 10 days a month (with trips every other month to both Shanghai and Bejing) for the past 7 months (Robert Kinney and Evan Jowers will be in Hong Kong again March 15 to 23), and spending most of his time there meeting with senior US hiring partners at just about all the major US and UK firms there, as well as prospective candidates at all associate levels and partner levels, and when in the US, Evan works Asia hours and is regularly on the phone with such persons, as our the other members of our Asia team. Our Yuliya Vinokurova is in Hong Kong every other month and Robert is there about 5 times a year as well. While we have a solid Asia team of recruiters, Evan Jowers will spend at least some time with all of our candidates for Asia position. We have had long standing relationships, and good friendships in some cases, with hiring partners and other senior US partners in Asia for 8 years now.
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