WilmerHale

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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It’s either this sad box or the poor ‘Layoff Lady.’

Are the Weil Gotshal layoffs a harbinger of a rough second-half of the year for Biglaw? Early signs are not encouraging. Since last week we’ve seen office closings, secretary firings, and the amibiguous WilmerHale goings-on. There is a palpable tension in the wake of the Weil cuts. Where do we go from here? What, if any, will be the follow-on effect of Weil’s move?

In the wake of the Weil cuts, our friend Bruce MacEwen gave an interesting interview to Bloomberg Law’s Lee Pacchia. Bruce speculated that there is possibility of up to 10% overcapacity in Biglaw, and the supply and demand curves for legal talent have permanently shifted. In Bruce’s view, Weil is “very much ahead of the curve.” Ominous tidings for associates everywhere. There’s an interesting point in the interview where Pacchia wonders whether the legal profession will ever return to a “halcyon era” where law firm partners’ immediate self-interest is minimized in favor of long-term stewardship. Bruce, channeling Clubber Lang, responds that the only thing that will return us to that golden era, if it ever existed, is more pain.

Last week we conducted a research poll asking for your take on whether the Weil layoffs signal an oncoming reprise of the Biglaw bloodbath of 2008-09 or a singular phenomenon. Let’s look at the results of our poll and some choice highlights from your responses….

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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….

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This year has seen a grim procession of law firm layoff news, which seemed to pick up momentum just yesterday with the Weil Gotshal lawyer layoffs and the Jones Day staff cuts. Are we looking at a 2008 redux, or is this just a bump in the road as the economy makes its slow recovery?

The Weil news was particularly stunning. If any firm seemed poised to thrive in the post-recession “new normal,” it was Weil, with its diversified practices and hegemonic restructuring group. Alas, with yesterday’s news of Weil’s decision to cut 7% of its associates and slash annual compensation for 10% of its partners by hundreds of thousands of dollars, it is clear that Biglaw job security is a thing of the past.

Let’s explore the reasons behind law firm layoffs, review a chronology of recent reductions, and obtain your views through a reader survey….

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Former Senator John ‘McDreamy’ Edwards

It’s perhaps unfair to bastardize General MacArthur’s famous farewell speech to Congress, but there’s a fitting juxtaposition between informing politicians of the honor of fading away from the public scene while those very politicians run to law firms to continue lobbying their former colleagues.

It’s a career path ordained by God.

Which is why it’s newsworthy when three prominent, but out of work, political figures eschew a lobbying practice to be real lawyers…

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Erika Harold

* AG Eric Holder sat down and had a little chat about what’s been going on at the Justice Department. He’s not impressed with his agency’s work, but he claims he’s not stepping down just yet. [NBC News]

* “Can you hear me now?” Oh, Verizon, what an apropos slogan you’ve got considering the latest government scandal. The NSA has been spying on you through your phone records since late April. [Guardian]

* Lawyers for Matthew Martoma still want more time to comb through millions upon millions of documents in their client’s insider trading case, but it seems rather pointless after a judge’s kiss of death. [Reuters]

* Looks like she got her wish: thanks to Judge Michael Baylson, a little girl with terminal cystic fibrosis may have a better chance at getting a longer lease on life in this donor lung transplant case. [CNN]

* Being a politician didn’t really work out so well for him, so John Edwards is going to try his hand at being a lawyer again. Just think of all of the lovely ladies he’ll be able to pick up as clients. [USA Today]

* Speaking of former public servants who are getting back into the law, Ken Salazar will be opening the Denver office of WilmerHale — and when it comes to pay, he’s got a “very good package.” [Denver Post]

* And not to be forgotten, famous flip-flopper Joe Lieberman will be taking his services to Kasowitz Benson. We certainly hope the firm will appreciate his superior legal mind. [WSJ Law Blog (sub. req.)]

* The ABA is considering law school job data collection 10 months after graduation, instead of nine, because bar exam results come out so late. Like that extra month will help… [National Law Journal]

* Erika Harold, a Harvard Law grad and ex-Sidley associate known for her reign as Miss America, is running for Congress in Illinois. What will she she do for the talent portion of the competition? [Politico]

Are staff attorneys closer to support staff or associates? They fall somewhere in between. They have law degrees and practice law, but they don’t enjoy the pay and partnership prospects of associates.

And staff attorneys are more susceptible to layoffs. Although we’ve heard reports of associate and partner layoffs — which are definitely under-reported, due to the stealthy way in which they’re generally conducted, often with confidentiality agreements — staffers are getting hit harder. And that includes staff attorneys.

We now bring you word of one leading law firm’s double-digit cuts to its staff attorney program….

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The thousands of NYU faithful crowding Washington Square park last night unleashed a torrent of cheers upon seeing plumes of white smoke arising from Furman Hall, signaling the selection of a new dean for the School of Law.

The hiring comes after former Dean Ricky Revesz announced that he was stepping down from the post he held for the last 11 years (though Revesz will remain on faculty at NYU, sort of a Dean Emeritus).

So let’s meet the new dean…

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A few years ago, I was covering some conservative legal or political conference where Ted Olson was scheduled to appear. At some point before his scheduled appearance, it was announced that he’d be unable to attend. It was chalked up to a scheduling conflict, but some wondered: had Olson withdrawn because of a fear that he’d be persona non grata? This was not long after he had filed the case that’s now before the U.S. Supreme Court as Hollingsworth v. Perry, and some conservatives were unhappy with the former solicitor general’s taking up the cause of marriage equality, viewing it as a betrayal.

Oh how times have changed. Now prominent Republicans are lining up to support the cause of marriage equality in the Supreme Court of the United States.

Yes, February 14 was almost two weeks ago. But on Thursday, a bunch of leading conservatives will send Justice Anthony M. Kennedy a valentine….

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Pamela Levinson

You know what’s the mark of a good lawsuit against a law firm? The ability to polarize. Sure, it’s fun to laugh at the wacky ones, like Berry v. Kasowitz Benson or Morisseau v. DLA Piper. But the true classics are cases in which half the people think the plaintiff is a crusader for justice, and half the people think the plaintiff is an extortionist.

Take the 2007 lawsuit of Charney v. Sullivan & Cromwell, brought by a young M&A lawyer claiming anti-gay discrimination. That was a great lawsuit. Some readers saw it as a Philadelphia for the 21st century, while others saw it as a shameless shakedown of a top law firm.

By this standard, Levinson v. WilmerHale is a good lawsuit. Readers can’t seem to agree on this one. Let’s check out the sharply divided opinions — and also hear more about Pamela Levinson, from former colleagues at the firm….

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