With all of the actual layoffs that are occurring in the BigLaw world, it is pretty easy for sites like Above the Law and Law Shucks to have great fodder on how scary things are for BigLaw associates and staff. Don’t get me wrong, I monitor both of these sites from time to time, and find that they identify a lot of issues out there that many of the legal publications wouldn’t touch. However, I spotted a story last week that made me wonder if there might be a little more “hype” than “fact.” The story called “Nationwide (Stealth) Layoff Watch: Nixon Peabody” was in Above the Law last Friday – and mentioned in Law Shuck’s “This Week in Lawyoffs – 10/9/09“. Although I don’t doubt that ATL was given information on the details surrounding layoffs, I thought I’d check something first before taking this information at face value.
Back in February, when the big round of layoffs were taking place, I took it upon myself to take a snapshot of most of the AmLaw 100 rosters via their websites. Nixon Peabody, of course, was one of these. So, I thought I’d dust off that list and compare it to today’s roster of employees. What I found was pretty interesting, but didn’t seem to be as dire as I’ve been reading in ATL or Law Shucks. I identified who was new to the roster, and who was no longer on the roster. This is not a scientific comparison, so please take into account that there could be a number of reasons for the “new” and “missing” roster members, such as name changes from marriage or divorce, and things like partners that have moved to different firms rather than being laid off. So, don’t take this as a perfect list…. With that being said, here’s what I found:
Associates 26 New Associates vs. 32 Not on Roster

Partners 8 New Partners vs. 15 Not on Roster

Others (Counsel, Staff Atty, Advisors, etc) 6 New Others vs. 12 Not on Roster
Paralegals 12 New Paralegals vs. 6 Not on Roster
So, there does seem to be a net loss of 19 attorneys since the February snapshot. However, there has been an increase of 6 paralegals, and I’m pretty sure I haven’t been hearing anything about hiring at BigLaw firms. What I’m seeing from these raw numbers is that there is still movement within the firms (at least this single one I unscientifically surveyed), but I’d be cautious to buy too much into the hype of secret layoffs without digging a little deeper into the facts surrounding the comings and goings of these attorneys. Below are the lists I’ve worked from. Take a look and see if you find that the facts might be more interesting than the hype.
  • Tiny Tim

    ATL and LS are both more like "The Daily Show" than "The Nightly News". Take some facts and have some fun with it. The truth is that a lot of young lawyers are disillusioned with the reality of law firm life, big firm and small firm. It isn't the glorious stuff of film and TV that they were hoping for. The ones who aren't type A personalities and know they won't ever be a rain maker are now regretting their choices and the loans they accumulated and are looking for an outlet for their pent up frustration. ATL and LS gives them that outlet. Not that big firms aren't doing the things of which they've been accused, some certainly are doing them. But so what, they always have been all about the partners and always will be.

  • I guess I should have put in my post that I'm a big fan of ATL and LS… so, don't take this as a "don't trust these sites" kind of post. But, you're Daily Show reference is a good one. Unfortunately, there aren't any really good "Nightly News" channels that are telling the whole story of law firm layoffs. Somehow, we have to balance the hype we get from ATL and LS with the under-reporting we get from AmLaw and the other legal rags.

  • Anonymous

    I hope you realize that firms often leave up the bios of laid off attorneys for many months.

  • I thought that too (leaving bios up for many months.) However, once I started tracking them, once the person "officially" left the firm (sometimes after their vacation time, or "buy-out" time expired) the names come off immediately. There is a difference of seven months between the two lists — the initial list coming right after the big February layoffs. So, this should be a pretty good sample to use.

  • Anonymous

    Bios aren't left up for months, I think. When I was laid off, the bio was gone the next day. Same with the other folks let go.

  • I have found that the rosters are usually pretty good at removing people as soon as they are no longer associated with the firm. However, I have seen a few that wait until the "official" date of departure is met before taking them off the roster. So, it depends upon the individual firm. But, most firms don't want people showing up on their rosters when they are no longer affiliated with the firm, so they come down pretty quickly after leaving the firm.

  • I haven't taken a close look at the Nixon Peabody case, but for the record, these days most of our information about layoff numbers comes from (1) an official firm statement released to ATL in response to an inquiry, (2) an internal memo leaked to ATL, or (3) an authorized firm representative giving us official numbers, but on background (i.e., they don't want it known that the numbers came from the firm).

    It could be that the firms are lying to us. Unfortunately, we don't have a good way of determining that.

    – David Lat

  • David… first of all, thanks for commenting on the blog and following up with more information back on ATL
    Following the story of the BigLaw layoffs (announced, stealth and everything in between) is a difficult job at best. It is not surprising that firms would try to do stealth layoffs, but in this day and age of instant video reporting and leaks that are only an anonymous email away, firms that try it are risking much more of a public black-eye than they would receive by just admitting the layoffs in the first place. I'd hope firms wouldn't attempt to do stealth layoffs, but… people are people, and will do dumb things in order to try to hide problems.