Lawyer Layoffs

It may be hard to believe, but the buzz among attorneys in these days of so much financial difficulty has as much to do with lawyers being laid off as with their clients having hard times.

More and more lawyers, it seems, are now looking for legal advice from employment attorneys.

Lawyer layoffs have been growing considerably over the last year or two, and particularly in the last few months. The blawg Law Shucks, which tracks lawyer layoffs (and is a source recently used by CNN), has the number of announced lawyer layoffs at nearly 3500 around the country, with another almost 5000 staff getting the boot as well.

The interesting thing seems to be that these layoffs are in the bigger to very large firms, presumably the ones that have the most overhead, largest salaries, most unnecessary personnel, highest rent, etc. And the highest fees, as well. Since smaller and mid- sized firms have to control costs anyway, they can usually find a way, we would think, to cut costs rather than firing people.

But, unlike in most businesses, lawyers have a great deal of leverage when they are show the door, if they can learn to use it.

Negotiating an exit strategy from a law firm should be done carefully and with expert guidance, perhaps even in a mediation situation. How long and what form leaving a law firm takes should be subject to discussion with the firm– but, of course, a lawyer who represents himself or herself has a fool for a client.

The problems with throwing lawyers out the door without careful planning, as if the law business was just another business, are immense. Because lawyers are always supposed to put “clients first,” the legal field creates special considerations in confidentiality, finances, and many more areas not normally associated with non- law businesses.

For instance, there is the potential of “billing creep:” assuming that the least experienced attorneys are the ones who leave first, the more expensive ones are left behind, jacking up legal fees.

There are also the cases that the attorneys who are leaving are working on. How is that transfer of knowledge and trust to another attorney in the firm effected?

The answer to these and other questions can keep an attorney employed in the office, even in a part- time position, for some time after the pink slip lands.