Business of Law

More legal layoffs ahead? Experts expect more staff cuts

No one should be surprised by recent reports of staff layoffs and voluntary buyouts at law firms, according to a law firm consultant.

Law firms often review nonlawyer staffing first when considering cuts, Altman Weil principal Thomas Clay tells the Legal Intelligencer. “I’m surprised that anybody’s surprised,” he told the publication. “You’re going to continue to see it as firms look in a slow-growth or no-growth economy” to save money.

Clay said nonlawyer staffers represent 40 percent of a law firm’s costs. The second largest expense is office space, he said.

Another law firm consultant, Jeff Coburn, said technology is leading to cuts, since there is no longer a need for people to type, file, call meetings and take notes. “The ratio of nonprofessionals to professionals is going to continue to go down,” he told the Legal Intelligencer.

Law firms no longer see staff cuts as embarrassing, Coburn said, but that’s not the case when underperforming partners are ousted. He thinks law firms need to take the problem seriously. “There needs to be a hard look at how law firms are enabling partners to remain way behind their economic value,” he told the publication.

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