Voluntary retirement

Today has been quite the roller coaster. Layoffs here, layoffs there, rescinded offers everywhere. It certainly looks like the legal profession has a case of the Mondays.

To cap off this day of negative news, we’ve got word of yet another law school that’s offering buyouts to its tenured faculty. Yes, tenured faculty, oh my.

Which law school put this offer on the table, and how many professors are expected to take it?

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I recently had dinner with the dean of a law school. To give you a sense of this person’s perspective, I’ll say that he (or she, but I’ll use the masculine) is responsible for a law school that U.S. News ranks somewhere between 50 and 100. His school has thus been hammered by the Great Recession and the decrease in applications to law school, but the school is not (yet) thinking of turning out the lights.

I didn’t actually pry into what was happening at his school. He simply volunteered that his life was far different now than it had been a very few years ago. I guess that’s no surprise, given the tumult of the times.

Anyway, what are law school deans doing these days?

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As law school class sizes continue to shrink, whether due to students’ lack of interest in acquiring six figures of debt or law schools “right-sizing” to maintain student quality, something has got to give so there’s enough money to keep the lights on.

But layoffs are harsh, so clearly the next best thing is to politely ask faculty members to purge their presence from the wonderful world of gainful employment in the ivory tower — with some additional monetary incentive to sweeten the pot.

Which law school is asking its tenure-track faculty members to quit for the greater good?

UPDATE (3/26/2014, 9:30 a.m.): Please note the UPDATE added below.

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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.

For a firm that sank like a stone in the most recent Fortune “Best Companies to Work For” rankings, sliding from #62 to #81 in just a year’s time, reducing ranks is sure to earn it another demotion.

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…

(Please note the UPDATES to this post below.)

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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?

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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.)

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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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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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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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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….

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