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January’s Carnage: 1,487 Law Layoffs

Posted Jan 29, 2009 3:15 PM CDT
By Martha Neil

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So far, it hasn't been a happy new year for many lawyers working at well-known law firms throughout the country.

As 2009 began, so did news of a growing tsunami of attorney layoffs being made at many BigLaw firms—not to mention London's magic circle, in-house legal departments and midsize law partnerships.

The latest wave followed hundreds of lawyer layoffs announced last year, but the pace of the attorney axings seems to be picking up: It appears that at least 500 attorneys have been let go by major legal employers this month, according to news reports, and additional layoffs may have been made without attracting media attention.

This afternoon, the Law Shucks blog listed a total of 1,381 layoffs reportedly being pursued by law firms based in the U.S. and abroad during January, in a chart on its Layoff Tracker page. (This figure included both attorneys and staff.) By the end of the day, the layoffs total had been increased to 1,487, after Ropes & Gray announced that it is letting 106 staff members go.

"More firms are in a fragile condition than I've ever seen," legal consultant William Brennan of Altman Weil Inc. recently told the Wall Street Journal (sub. req.).

However, law firms making layoffs likely will be on a stronger financial footing as a result, and in layoff announcements they routinely say their financial condition is strong. Those at risk appear to be not law firms making layoffs but, as discussed in the newspaper article and an earlier ABAJournal.com post, law firms like the dissolving Heller Ehrman that lose a critical mass of partners who voluntarily depart for jobs elsewhere.

As several articles about lawyer layoffs also note, a number of law firms are naming new partners and hiring laterally, even as they ax attorneys in slow practice areas. The financial well-being of the firms that fired them, though, may be of little consolation to laid-off lawyers, as the Above the Law blog has frequently pointed out in its posts.

Among those on the ever-lengthening layoffs list are Cadwalader Wickersham & Taft (9 associates); Choate Hall & Stewart (15 lawyers and 23 staff); Clifford Chance (up to 80 London associates); Cooley Godward Kronish (52 attorneys and 62 staff); Foley Hoag (a total of 32 associates and staff); Kirkland & Ellis (about 15 lawyers, according to legal recruiters); Linklaters (at least 100 lawyers and 130 staff); Merrill Lynch (6 senior in-house counsel); Morrison & Foerster (53 attorneys and 148 staff); Parker Poe Adams & Bernstein (13 lawyers and 15 staff); Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom (an unspecified number of staff attorneys apparently amounting to nearly half of the staff attorney group); Wildman Harrold Allen & Dixon (approximately 10 attorneys); and Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati (45 lawyers and 68 staff).

Other law firms have announced staff cuts, but have avoided lawyer layoffs, at least for now.

Related ABAJournal.com coverage:

Silver Lining in Law Firm Layoffs News: Many Partnerships are Better-Managed

Legal Services Industry Lost 7,000 Jobs Last Year

‘Accidental Laterals’ Spur Record Number of BigLaw Partner Moves

Updated at 7:45 p.m. to include latest layoffs total and link to ABAJournal.com post on Ropes & Gray.

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