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After Early March Mayhem, Law Firm Layoffs Slow: Month’s Total Nears 3,500

Posted Mar 26, 2009 11:54 PM CDT
By Martha Neil

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It appears that the worst might possibly be over, both for the struggling global economy and the ever-increasing number of major law firms that have been laying off support staff, associates--and even partners--in record numbers.

Although law firm layoffs continue--Thursday's tally included some 234 people let go at four well-known firms--they have slowed.

Following news of more than 3,000 law firm layoffs made between Feb. 27 and March 12, this blistering pace of earlier in the month has clearly slackened, at least for now. Since then, although there have been well over 400 additional reported law firm layoffs, that puts the total tally, in a little less than one month, close to the 3,500 mark. If earlier March mayhem had continued, the total tally for the month presumably would have been around 6,000.

That compares to rough tallies of about 2,000 law firm layoffs in February and some 1,500 in January at major firms. (A Latham & Watkins announcement in late February that the firm would be axing 190 associates and 250 staff has been counted in the March 12 total, skewing the March numbers a bit. However, some firms have confirmed layoffs but declined to give figures and others may have made "stealth" layoffs, neither of which are tallied. Hence, the overall figure for March, so far, is probably about right.)

Four law firms Thursday announced layoffs of about 234 people and another 37-plus were let go at three other firms earlier in the week (one of these law firms announced layoffs but didn't provide specific numbers or dates).

And that 271-plus tally for this week followed a mere 129 reported law firm layoffs last week (again, one firm declined to provide numbers). Although some of these layoffs represent a relatively high percentage of the attorney roster of the smaller or mid-size law firms involved, such numbers are, sadly, becoming somewhat routine, given the ongoing carnage to which major-firm lawyers and staff are becoming accustomed.

The high water mark was March 12, when Sidley Austin announced it had laid off 89 lawyers and 140 staff, putting total layoffs since Feb. 27 over 3,000. Also included in that total were layoffs of 79 at Blank Rome (27 associates and 52 staff) and 62 at Husch Blackwell Sanders (17 lawyers--including some partners--and 45 staff).

Specifically, Thursday's news included 25 layoffs at the Indianapolis firm of Bose McKinney & Evans (10 attorneys and 15 staff); 24 transactional associates in the New York office of Clifford Chance; 125 at Dechert (63 "lawyers and other time keepers," 62 staff) ; and about 60 at Edwards Angell Palmer & Dodge (about 25 lawyers and 35 staff).

This followed news earlier this week of 23 layoffs (and pay cuts) at Chicago-based Goldberg Kohn (the nine attorneys involved add up to about 25 percent of the associates at the now 29-associate, 48-partner firm); 14 at Saul Ewing (seven associates and seven staff); and "a handful of people" cut for economic reasons at Quinn Emanuel Urquhart Oliver & Hedges (at least some of these layoffs may have occurred earlier).

Last week's news included five layoffs announced at Minnesota's Dunlap & Seeger (two lawyers, three staff); 69 at Katten Muchin Roseman (23 lawyers, 46 staff)--as well as 20-percent pay cuts for Katten associates not meeting billable targets; up to 55 expected layoffs in the London office of Mayer Brown; and an unknown number of layoffs at Troutman Sanders (layoffs apparently were planned but not yet an actuality, as the firm called for staff volunteers for a more generous severance package).

Tallies differ concerning the total number of layoffs at major law firms this year: Law firm layoffs tracker charts compiled the Law Shucks website have somewhat different overall figures, and don't exactly duplicate the news reported by the ABA Journal. However, the tallies are in the same ballpark and the number of layoffs obviously is stunningly high compared to the relatively stable employment environment that major law firms have routinely offered in the past to most of those who work there.

The total law firm layoffs tally also, of course, doesn't include so-called stealth layoffs not announced at the time by the law firm involved; both Clifford Chance and Manatt Phelps & Phillips, for instance, only confirmed last week layoffs that took place months earlier. (Clifford Chance voted this month to approve partner cuts, but announced the planned cuts earlier; these, too, are not included in the March tally.)

Meanwhile, Proskauer Rose didn't confirm or deny reports that the firm laid off 23 attorneys in mid-March, and Baker Botts has confirmed layoffs in mid-March but declines to say whether the 30-lawyer figure compiled by the Above the Law legal tabloid is accurate. Again, these numbers aren't included in the total figure for March.

Related coverage:

ABAJournal.com: "March Mayhem: Law Firm Layoffs in 1 Week Total Nearly 1,500"

ABAJournal.com: "Partner Pay Cuts are New Signpost in Dismal Law Firm Economic Landscape"

ABAJournal.com: "Lawyer Layoff Surge is Hitting In-House Counsel Hard, Too"

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