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Bloody Thursday: 6 Major Law Firms Ax Attorneys

Posted Feb 12, 2009 2:54 PM CDT
By Martha Neil

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It's been a bloody day so far for dozens of attorneys throughout the country, and it isn't over yet.

Six well-known law firms have announced attorney layoffs: Bryan Cave; Dechert; DLA Piper; Faegre & Benson; Goodwin Procter; and Holland & Knight. And significant staff layoffs may have been made at a seventh, although no official announcement has been made, according to Above the Law.

Additional cost-cutting measures, including a pay freeze, a pay cut and postponing the start date for incoming associates were also announced today by several law firms.

Citing the "deteriorating economic environment," megafirm DLA Piper tells the ABA Journal that it is reducing its U.S. roster by approximately 80 associates and 100 staff. "While we had hoped for a rebound in economic activity, we believe that a major improvement in 2009 is increasingly unlikely," according to the firm, which also implied that these layoffs will be the last for the foreseeable future.

After the DLA Piper news came word that Bryan Cave is eliminating 58 attorneys and 76 staff, that Holland & Knight is "restructuring" and laying off approximately 70 lawyers and 173 staff, and, via ATL, that Faegre & Benson is cutting 29 attorneys and has offered a "voluntary separation package" to an unknown number of staff.

"These reductions represent about 5 percent of our attorneys and 6 percent of our staff," says Bryan Cave Chairman Don Lents in an internal memo that was provided by the firm to the ABA Journal today. It refers to the layoffs as "among the most difficult decisions we have had to make."

The firm is also freezing associate pay, Lent adds: "Consistent with this decision and having reviewed the continuing economic climate, we have also concluded that we will not increase salaries in 2009."

Lent says that the layoffs are being made in the midst of "the most difficult economic conditions most of us have ever encountered," referring to the general state of the economy, and urges those remaining at the firm to be "particularly attentive to our clients’ needs and circumstances."

In a press release provided to the ABA Journal, Holland & Knight says it is "reassigning lawyers from areas in which client demand has declined to areas in which client demand continues to be robust or is increasing" and looking for other ways to increase efficiency, in addition to making lawyer and staff layoffs.

In a statement sent by Faegre & Benson to the ABA Journal today, the Minnesota-based international law firm confirms its own layoffs and says it is "practicing law in the same challenging economic environment in which our clients are doing business. Like many firms across the country, we are aligning our resources with the anticipated demand for our services and are doing so in a thoughtful and measured manner."

The firm announced internally yesterday its plan to reduce its attorney roster by 29 in upcoming months, the statement says.

Meanwhile, Goodwin Procter confirmed that it is laying off 38 associates and 36 staff. "The attorneys affected include associates and professional-track attorneys, and the staff affected include paralegals, secretaries and administrative staff," according to a memo. It says the cuts are deepest in Boston and New York, and among those in the firm's business law practice.

"Weighing heavily in our decision was the uncertain length of this downturn," Goodwin Procter Managing Partner Regina Pisa says in the memo. "If we believed that an economic turnaround was imminent, or even within sight, we would not have come to this difficult decision."

As detailed in an earlier ABAJournal.com post, this latest round of layoff announcements began with news this morning that Dechert is letting 19 lawyers go.

And that may not be all: according to Above the Law, significant layoffs also are under way today at two other major law firms.

In still more economic bad news today, WolfBlock announced a 10 percent associate pay cut, and Nixon Peabody—which announced attorney layoffs on Tuesday—has postponed the start date for new associates to next year.

In a statement provided to Above the Law, Nixon Peabody says: "We have chosen to defer the start date for our fall associates to January 2010 and we will pay each a deferral stipend. This start date change affects all of our fall associates in all offices."

Coverage of additional layoffs:

ABAJournal.com: "Bloody Thursday Layoffs Also Hit Cozen and Epstein Becker; ‘Big Ones’ Still to Come"

Updated at 4:30 p.m. to include information from Holland & Knight. Updated on Feb. 13 to add article updating layoffs.

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