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Lawyer Layoff Surge is Hitting In-House Counsel Hard, Too

Posted Mar 23, 2009 6:41 PM CDT
By Martha Neil

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It isn't just BigLaw private practitioners who are getting the ax as corporations struggling to cope with the dismal economy cut legal expenses.

Many in-house corporate lawyers are being laid off, too, reports the National Law Journal.

"Name an industry where you've seen a significant problem, and attorneys are experiencing it along with everybody else," says Deborah House, deputy general counsel of the Association of Corporate Counsel. House points to automobile manufacturers, insurers and financial services companies as examples of hard-hit corporate sectors.

For the first time since 2003, the ACC's membership is declining, the legal publication reports. After annual increases of 10 percent in recent years, the membership roster has fallen off by 6 percent so far in 2009, although the ACC hopes there will be an upsurge of some 2 percent by September.

Those recently dismissed are allowed temporarily to remain members without paying ACC dues. Their ranks have increased by 50 percent over the past year, to 321, the magazine notes.

The watchword is efficiency, those in charge of corporate legal departments tell the magazine, and even highly skilled in-house lawyers are expendable if their work isn't essential to the company.

At E.I. du Pont de Nemours and Co., which is often looked to as a trend-setting leader in the handling of corporate legal matters, Andrew Schaeffer has had the job of cutting legal expenses by 10 percent.

There isn't any plan to lay off lawyers at du Pont, says Schaeffer, who is the company's managing counsel for operations and partnering. But he's shifting more work to law firms that offer lower rates. Often, they are smaller than BigLaw mainstays. They also tend to be in the Midwest.


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