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Black Thursday
February 12, 2009 2:44 PM   Subscribe

Welcome to Black Thursday, a day quickly becoming known among the legal community as the date where major law firms across the world announced major layoffs of both staff and attorneys. The short list includes such well known firms as DLA Piper, Cadwalader, Epstein Becker, Faegre & Benson, Holland & Knight, Goodwin Procter, Bryan Cave, and Dechert. Dozens more, such as Nixon Peabody, Luce Forward, Paul Hastings, and Merchant and Gould announced layoffs in recent weeks, and more confirmations from yet other firms are likely on lucky Friday the 13th. This was predictable. Harrison Barnes of BCG Attorney Search, a headhunter firm, has some interesting and seemingly altruistic advice (as he sits seaside in the shade) - if you are a part of the layoffs, don't use headhunters. Good luck, folks.
posted by Muddler (95 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

 
A good start.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 2:48 PM on February 12, 2009 [12 favorites]


It's a recession when lawyers lose their jobs; it's a depression when economists lose their jobs.
posted by GuyZero at 2:49 PM on February 12, 2009 [4 favorites]


And the itinerant shysters took to the highways and byways, suing to survive.
posted by jonmc at 2:50 PM on February 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


The first thing we do, let's fire all the lawyers.
posted by Astro Zombie at 2:54 PM on February 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


Ha! NYU Law just had its "Spring Mingle" 1L summer recruiting event a couple of weeks ago. I went for the free food and swag (I got a sweet Paul Hastings flash drive), but ended up in a conversation with a recruiter for Piper when she cornered me at the chafing dish filled with pigs in a blanket (where I spent the majority of my time at the event). In cheery tones, she told me all about how great the 1L summer experience was at Piper, the hands-on mentoring I'd get from senior staff, the substantive work I'd be involved in, etc. I asked her if she was herself an attorney, and she replied that no, she was actually a professional recruiter, so she couldn't really speak specifically to the kinds of substantive work a typical 1L summer employee would be doing. Then I asked her if the economic downturn had altered Piper's recruitment schemes in any way, to which she replied that actually, they really weren't recruiting 1Ls in any significant numbers this year. Mystified, I asked her why she was here, and why Piper had spent so much money on setting up a swag-covered table specifically for a 1L recruitment event, to which she replied, without hesitation: "For recruitment!"

I backed slowly away, stuffed one last pig in a blanket in my mouth and fled the scene.
posted by saladin at 2:55 PM on February 12, 2009 [23 favorites]


Aw crap my brother's a lawyer I hope he isn't fired.

Yes, even lawyers have families--end the silence of shame!
posted by Potomac Avenue at 2:57 PM on February 12, 2009


My roommate's a 3L. Looks like she's never going to move out at this rate. Those dirty dishes are really starting to get on my nerves, too.
posted by backseatpilot at 2:58 PM on February 12, 2009


A good start.

haha! it's funny when people lose their jobs!
posted by moxiedoll at 3:06 PM on February 12, 2009 [4 favorites]


haha! it's funny when people lose their jobs!

No, it's funny when lawyers lose their jobs!

Sorry, sorry, I don't mean it, a friend of mine is a lawyer, but come on, that was low-hanging fruit.
posted by languagehat at 3:09 PM on February 12, 2009 [7 favorites]


haha! it's funny when people lose their jobs!

Lawyers aren't people, at least according to an originalist reading of the emoluments clause. If that sentence bothers you, you're probably not a person.
posted by allen.spaulding at 3:14 PM on February 12, 2009 [5 favorites]


haha! it's funny when people lose their jobs!

It's even funnier when the person who made that comment is a, a, a ...
posted by Wolof at 3:16 PM on February 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


Fair enough, LH, and I've got no love for kids making six figures at 25 - thing is, though, that while (big) wealth doesn't trickle down, the loss of young disposable wealth most definitely does.... so we should be more frightened than gloat-y. First they came for the lawyers, but then they came for the bartenders (and the servers, and the retail employees and the hairdressers...)
posted by moxiedoll at 3:16 PM on February 12, 2009


haha! it's funny when people lose their jobs!

"Tragedy is when I cut my finger, comedy is when you fall down an open manhole cover and die"
posted by quin at 3:18 PM on February 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


As ever, the US is ever-so-slightly late to the party. Keep score here - It's a "New World". /gallows humour
posted by patricio at 3:21 PM on February 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


"Tragedy is when I cut my finger, comedy is when you fall down an open manhole cover and die"

I believe its "fall down and open manhole and die," but I confess, the image of falling down a manhole cover is pretty funny, too. Especially fatally, since those things are probably all of like an inch thick.
posted by Joey Michaels at 3:24 PM on February 12, 2009


moxiedoll - that's why Wall Street needs to get bonuses.

For want of a stock broker, the lawyer was not hired.
For want of a lawyer, the suit was not bought.
For want of a suit, the tailor ate dinner at home.
For want of a dinner out, the waiter was not tipped.
For want of a tip, the bar was empty of patrons.
For want of a patron, the bar was closed.

For want of a stock broker, there are no more watering holes in this sad land.
posted by filthy light thief at 3:25 PM on February 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


haha! it's funny when people lose their jobs!

Sue us.
posted by jonmc at 3:26 PM on February 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


On topic, any current law student who chose "bankruptcy and foreclosure" law as their specialty is looking at a potential bright future.
posted by Joey Michaels at 3:26 PM on February 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


Hey, you might not like the lawyers, but there are plenty of hard-working paralegals (that have to eat lawyer shit all day but don't get paid nearly as much for the honor) who will likely also have to be worried for their jobs.

So, at least that's a little sad.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 3:30 PM on February 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


Unemployment just creates bigger herds.
posted by netbros at 3:33 PM on February 12, 2009


Well if they start firing paralegals, that might free up some handicapped parking at least.
posted by boo_radley at 3:34 PM on February 12, 2009 [3 favorites]


Harrison Barnes is far from altruistic. He's cornered the market on wasting law school grads' money. He runs BGC Attorney Search, Law Crossing, and Legal Authority, all of which he pimps in the video. Law Crossing is okay, but Legal Authority is a nightmare. I got sucked into it after law school, and can only thank God they screwed up the process so badly I got my money back.
posted by schoolgirl report at 3:37 PM on February 12, 2009


Having been through one divorce and two custody battles, all you lawyers (mine included) can suck it from the unemployment line.
posted by rocket88 at 3:40 PM on February 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


Hey, you might not like the lawyers, but there are plenty of hard-working paralegals (that have to eat lawyer shit all day but don't get paid nearly as much for the honor)

Not only do I know lawyers who lost their jobs today, but I also work with attorneys who earn considerably less than do many big-firm paralegals. I think some of you LOLATTORNEYS!!11 folks might have a much more fair and realistic view of the practice of law if you watched less television.
posted by applemeat at 3:46 PM on February 12, 2009


OK, so we've got "LOLATTORNEYS". Can I suggest "PARALOLEGALS" as well? Actually, I think "LOLTORNEY" kinda flows better, so lets use that instead. It's punchier.
posted by boo_radley at 3:51 PM on February 12, 2009


posted by applemeat some of you LOLATTORNEYS!!11 folks might have a much more fair and realistic view of the practice of law if you watched less television.

And, if you were suddenly laid off.
posted by mattdidthat at 3:51 PM on February 12, 2009


I was not laid off. Sorry to let you down.
posted by applemeat at 3:58 PM on February 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


That you was not directed at you! My "you" = the same "you" you used in your quote. You dig?
posted by mattdidthat at 4:00 PM on February 12, 2009


One thing that's sort of good about this recession is that it seems like were moving from an equilibrium where many of the smartest people do things that aren't particularly useful. Finance and Law are two big examples of this. The games aren't zero sum, but they don't quite add up to a number representing the salaries of people working in the fields.
posted by I Foody at 4:00 PM on February 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


Oh and I am a recently laid off paralegal.
posted by I Foody at 4:01 PM on February 12, 2009


The first thing we do, let's fire all the lawyers.

How many people, do you suppose, understand the real meaning behind this little bit of Shakespeare that gets tossed around so casually?

My fear is that with legions of lawyers out of work, the legal system will grind to a halt with contingency based and class action lawsuits. Great time, however, for a slip and fall accident.
posted by fatbird at 4:04 PM on February 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


Just to put some spin on my own post for those that don't know these law firms, they are some the largest in the country. They handle deals and litigation of a complex nature. In other words, most of these folks don't come near the divorce cases, basic personal injury cases, or other such lawyer-drama network T.V. stereotypes. These are high powered folks.

No, the people, and they are people, that lost their jobs probably graduated at the top of their class. They're smart, driven, and good at what they do. They largely make big money and they pay big taxes - and if it matters to any of you who just think they're another version of the old boy's network, statistics show they are generally liberal and vote Democrat.

These attorneys do the paperwork, the diligence, and the fighting if need be for corporate America and her employees. They write your patents, they help buy the land for the new office park, and they manage your benefits. They are being fired because the deals, innovations, and forward momentum that drives high-end legal work is gone.

So, what does this mean to you? Well, it doesn't mean one less ambulance chaser. It means highly educated people carrying big school debt and hopes for a bright future are not going to be on the other end of the line to help your employer out because your employer doesn't need their help. Not anymore. Not for what those folks do. Because your employer is slowly sinking as it is. Because you're employer won't be opening a new office or changing your benefits for the better. Because your employer is calling the bankruptcy folks, not the deal makers.

This is not a good sign for employment in America - unless you are a comedian.
posted by Muddler at 4:07 PM on February 12, 2009 [19 favorites]


You know who else is being laid off?

Everyone.
posted by IvoShandor at 4:08 PM on February 12, 2009


Considering that today is both Abraham Lincoln's* and Charles Darwin's 200th Birthdays, instead of "fired" or "laid off", today's job actions should be described as "freed" or "natural selections"... (And tomorrow, Friday the 13th, should be either "bad luck" or "Michael Myers attacks")


*for real, not Monday Holiday version
posted by wendell at 4:20 PM on February 12, 2009


I'm a comedian too. It also sucks. Lot's of clubs closing.
posted by I Foody at 4:20 PM on February 12, 2009 [1 favorite]



It's a recession when lawyers lose their jobs; it's a depression when economists lose their jobs.

Well, it looks like happy days are here again...
posted by geos at 4:21 PM on February 12, 2009


I agree with monju_bosatsu that this is a good start. But I don't say that because it is a punchline for a joke. Rather, it's a good start because there was a valuation bubble in the big firms that needs to be popped. Salaries for young associates was getting excessive. What's worse is that this whole cult of Big Law sucklers, driven by the Vault and shitty sights like that, has really jacked the profession. Big firms have been killing each other trying to compete by offering vanity plates to associates instead of quality of life or learning. It became up offered what money and what perks and what clerkships, etc. This image apparently appeals to many prospective law students and made some current lawsuits think this is the sine qua non of practicing law. Nothing could be further from the truth.

There is a place for the big firm model as an all in one legal resource center for national and international companies. But Big Law has gotten stuck on this unsustainable path of competing for associates just to plump up their demographics on paper. Rates skyrocket as overhead skyrockets and margins get thinner.

Big Law needs to have a restructuring. It needs layoffs. It needs to reconsider its goals. It needs to not follow unsustainable salary growth. And in the process, if that convinces a few thousand young or prospective lawyers to not go into the field or realize that there is more to the law than getting a cush job at Big Firm, then the short term pain will be worth it for the profession as a whole.

I say this knowing that very well, the bell may toll for me or friends, too. But as a profession, I think it is probably a good thing in the long run. Good lawyers will land on their feet. It will probably be for less--but still good--money. But talent will find a home.
posted by dios at 4:22 PM on February 12, 2009 [25 favorites]


But talent will find a home.

FORECLOSED.
posted by joe lisboa at 4:34 PM on February 12, 2009 [3 favorites]


No, seriously: as an attorney who elects to work for pennies on the dollar teaching philosophy to undergrads instead, I empathize with the plight of anybody facing a tough go of doing what they love, especially if they happen to be very good at it. Thoughtful comment, dios.
posted by joe lisboa at 4:35 PM on February 12, 2009


I got sucked into it after law school, and can only thank God they screwed up the process so badly I got my money back.

Wait, there are recruiters who charge the prospective employee for their work? That's horrendous!


I suppose the silver lining for these newly laid-off employees is that, since as Muddler describes, they're often the "best and the brightest," they will probably not have too much difficulty finding work elsewhere. It may be at a smaller firm, and it may not be for the salary to which they're accustomed, but I'm sure it's not the end of the road.
posted by Pomo at 4:41 PM on February 12, 2009


One imagines that dios enjoys the equanimity possible only to those safely in government employ.
posted by orthogonality at 4:41 PM on February 12, 2009


Thoughtful comment, dios.

Maybe. But certainly not very well typed or proofed... my apologies.

posted by dios at 4:41 PM on February 12, 2009


dios - I don't proof my posts any better than you do, so no worries

I hear what you are saying, but I think those that are being fired are more likely those new to the trade or those that did not bill a gazillion hours. These are the people that probably want a higher quality of life and all that you mention. Those left will be the hard core and they won't have learned the lesson you outline. In fact, they'd rather just lower those associate compensation packages while ramping up hours - because it will be an employer's market. Big firm jobs are not cush jobs. They are hard, stressful jobs. They will get even worse in this climate.
posted by Muddler at 4:50 PM on February 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


rocket88, unless you or your wife are worth mid-seven figures or more, I can guarantee that none of the lawyers involved in your divorce and custody proceedings were from the firms linked in the post.

(Which isn't to say that there aren't scuzzy lawyers employed there, but really. The attorneys fired today were, by and large, really junior, really young, and really, really screwed. Even Circuit clerks are having difficulty landing gigs these days, and a lot of tem write the opinions for judges one step below the Supreme effin' Court.)
posted by joyceanmachine at 4:59 PM on February 12, 2009


Mr. McGuire: I want to say two words to you. Just two words.
Benjamin: Yes, sir.
Mr. McGuire: Are you listening?
Benjamin: Yes, I am.
Mr. McGuire: Community Organizer.
posted by hal9k at 5:27 PM on February 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


haha! it's funny when people lose their jobs!

No, .... its funny when lawyers flee Dubai in fear of middle eastern DEBTORS' PRISON!
posted by R. Mutt at 5:30 PM on February 12, 2009


I pretty much agree with dios, but I worry too, because the job market for lawyers is already brutal and this is likely to further devalue the legal business. Yes, this may pop the valuation bubble at the top of the heap, but it may also fuel the race for the bottom where you are as likely to hire a completely horrible attorney as a good one for the same bargain rates of doing business.

I guess what I'm saying is that I don't have the confidence in the market sorting out the good lawyers from the bad ones, and I am also pretty sure that there are way too many lawyers already. People go to law school sure that they'll be great, make tons of money, and the reality is that the business is pretty tough for most attorneys these days.
posted by norm at 5:31 PM on February 12, 2009


Oh yeah, and I also feel for these people because I was laid off from a relatively big firm after fifteen months with them, and it derailed my career path. I'm doing some cool stuff now, but it certainly wasn't what I intended to do, and that two and a half years of wandering the wilderness (and working for... ugh, West) was pretty awful.
posted by norm at 5:33 PM on February 12, 2009


How's Dewey, Cheatem & Howe fairing?
posted by brundlefly at 5:54 PM on February 12, 2009


Retrain them as teachers, and start paying good teachers a non-laughable percentage of the average salary of lawyers. Problem solved; future secured.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 6:06 PM on February 12, 2009 [6 favorites]


I know, I'm a dreamer.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 6:06 PM on February 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


Retrain them as teachers, and start paying good teachers a non-laughable percentage of the average salary of lawyers. Problem solved; future secured.

You have no idea how much I'm behind such a proposal, stavros. Seriously.
posted by joe lisboa at 6:11 PM on February 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


but what about Chisholm, Chipchase, Fetterman, Coker, Arkwright, Stevens, Witherspoon, Higgs, Biggs and Keltingbrook? [SYTL]
posted by scruss at 6:29 PM on February 12, 2009


"No, the people, and they are people, that lost their jobs probably graduated at the top of their class. They're smart, driven, and good at what they do."

Yeah, yeah. You know what's even better than a funny lawyer joke? A lawyer reminding everyone how important lawyers are, and how we shouldn't joke about them.

FWIW, an immediate family member is an attorney with a long and respected career, with his own firm. He's probably going to do alright. It would suck if he were working for someone else and was laid off. But people will still joke about lawyers, and he still laughs at the jokes. Better not to take these things too seriously. Even Shakespeare joked about lawyers.

On the other hand ... What do you call a doctor who flunked medical school? A dentist!
posted by krinklyfig at 6:33 PM on February 12, 2009


"You have no idea how much I'm behind such a proposal, stavros. Seriously."

Well, not all lawyers are meant to teach. Seriously.

But I think for some, that might work pretty well.
posted by krinklyfig at 6:37 PM on February 12, 2009


I know, I'm a dreamer.

But you're not the only one.
posted by Michael Roberts at 6:41 PM on February 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


heartbreaking
posted by mattoxic at 7:21 PM on February 12, 2009


"You have no idea how much I'm behind such a proposal, stavros. Seriously."

Well, not all lawyers are meant to teach. Seriously.


Indeed, the underlying assumption here is that a human who is a lawyer is somehow an inherently smarter or more competent person than a human who is a teacher. A good teacher, like a good lawyer, is effective not just because of their education, but because of their aptitude. A person with an excellent aptitude for jurisprudence is not necessarily going to have an excellent aptitude for pedagogy, and vice versa.

That all said, there are many law-related fields that do regularly need qualified and outstanding employees. I'm not saying that there are enough jobs to staunch the bleeding, but I imagine that low-paid legal aid type jobs are going to be filled with some outstanding people. It might not pay as much, but the positive impact on certain communities could potentially be profound.
posted by Joey Michaels at 7:25 PM on February 12, 2009


but what about Chisholm, Chipchase, Fetterman, Coker, Arkwright, Stevens, Witherspoon, Higgs, Biggs and Keltingbrook

Or perhaps Mousebat, Follicle, Goosecreature, Ampersand, Spong, Wapcaplet, Looseliver, Vendetta and Prang?
posted by schoolgirl report at 8:09 PM on February 12, 2009


But I thought everyone was a winner at Nixon Peabody.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 8:39 PM on February 12, 2009


When do the wrongful termination suits begin?
posted by b1tr0t at 8:51 PM on February 12, 2009


Just a reminder that while it may be fun for people to go "Ah, lawyers got fired! Woo-hoo! Justice!", which I don't necessarily agree with in and of itself, but it's worthwhile to note that for every lawyer laid off, there's a larger ratio of support personnel being shown the door with them.

So when you read one of that website's stories about 19 lawyers laid off from such-and-such a firm or 70 lawyers laid off from such-and-such a firm, it's probable that at those firms, for each attorney seeing the door, two to three staff members got kicked to the curb as well. I know because my former employer ushered me to the door in late October of last year, and since then, it's been hard as hell to find a legal administrative support job in Chicago, even after the new year turned. Because the market is saturated with people desiring a job badly.

My guess as to why everything happened Thursday? A lot of companies close their financial year in February, I think. And there's something I'm not entirely sure of about shedding people before you start a new financial year somehow making your company look more financially healthy ... less obligations on your books or something?

Want to know why they're advising newly laid off people not to use headhunters? 'Cause the headhunters are going out of business. A legal admin employment agency I was using just dried up overnight. There's no jobs to place people in, and as a result, the commissions that these headhunters make their money from just don't exist -- and with their revenue stream dried up, they abruptly shut THEIR doors and let people go.
posted by WCityMike at 9:06 PM on February 12, 2009


Tomorrow will be my Black Friday, the head of my company (a utility) is having a meeting with all the supervisors and managers so we'll find out what is up with our company and if there will be layoffs. I'm expecting 5% furlough (1 day unpaid leave every 4 weeks), possibly a 10% (1 day every 2 weeks). If they go to the layoffs stage, then I get worried. I'm a very valuable asset to my company, but I have a feeling they'll have to keep some of the muck and toss some of the cream because its a government organization.
posted by SirOmega at 9:07 PM on February 12, 2009


I work at a major law firm in New York and the mood is grim. My firm already laid off a bunch of staff and then later attorneys, including my office mate. I realize how ridiculously privileged I am to be at a firm that pays such outrageous salaries, but on a personal level I am scared I will be saddled with the massive debt I racked up going to law school.
posted by Falconetti at 9:07 PM on February 12, 2009


Also, just in the spirit of being emotionally honest, I have to admit it doesn't make me feel exactly warm towards my fellow Mefites when the field I work in suddenly sheds 800+ jobs in one day and everyone's reaction here is one of gleeful breakdancing schadenfreude. There's innocents amongst the nasties, guys, and a "fire 'em all and let God sort 'em out" attitude just kinda fucking sucks.
posted by WCityMike at 9:20 PM on February 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


As a 3L without a job lined up for after graduation .... I'm considering just going back to undergrad and getting an EE degree. At least then someone might hire me.

(if anyone out there knows a law firm that is hiring .... let me know!)
posted by Arbac at 9:21 PM on February 12, 2009


Just as a statistical follow-up, adding up the figures from the stories listed for today at this Above the Law blog, it looks like the total layoffs for Black Thursday were 340 attorneys — and 525 staff members. So, yeah, so about 60% of the layoffs were comprised of trust-me-almost-certainly-not-that-luxuriously-paid support staff, and about 1.5 staff lost their job for every attorney fired.
posted by WCityMike at 9:49 PM on February 12, 2009


"everyone's reaction here is one of gleeful breakdancing schadenfreude"

Don't let your sanctimony get in the way of actually reading the thread, champ.
posted by bardic at 9:59 PM on February 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


Most of those firms use legal software that the company I work for makes. We just had layoffs also :(
posted by starscream at 10:02 PM on February 12, 2009


Wait, did I just get called a shitty teacher or an honest lawyer? I'm terribly confused.
posted by joe lisboa at 10:04 PM on February 12, 2009


Big Law needs to have a restructuring. It needs layoffs. It needs to reconsider its goals. It needs to not follow unsustainable salary growth. And in the process, if that convinces a few thousand young or prospective lawyers to not go into the field or realize that there is more to the law than getting a cush job at Big Firm, then the short term pain will be worth it for the profession as a whole.

The entire profession needs this, from big law to big legal education (first tier to fourth). The reason the thirst for big law is so strong is that the cost of entering the profession is so high. The legal system spits out so many new grads each year with six-figure debts that the fight is tooth and nail for these relative handful of six figure salaries. And for those who don't end up at a big law firm, even the positively skewedbi-modal distribution of first year salaries predicts some grim pickings...
posted by the christopher hundreds at 10:06 PM on February 12, 2009


Also, just in the spirit of being emotionally honest, I have to admit it doesn't make me feel exactly warm towards my fellow Mefites when the field I work in suddenly sheds 800+ jobs in one day and everyone's reaction here is one of gleeful breakdancing schadenfreude.

"A good start" is the punchline to one of the canonical lawyer jokes. I'd wager that a substantial number of favorites came from folks in or around the legal profession. It's funny. Even more so when invoked (or maybe just taken) as gallows humor. Also, there are over a million lawyers in the US. News that 300 of the highest paid lawyers got canned today isn't going to ruffle many feathers outside the big-law nest.


PS - The "this" I meant to address in my comment above is the restructuring. Not the layoffs. Sorry for any confusion.
posted by the christopher hundreds at 10:21 PM on February 12, 2009


bardic: Don't let your sanctimony get in the way of actually reading the thread, champ.

You're right. I have no idea where I got the idea of gleeful dancing schadenfruede. I mean, "a good start"; "and the itinerant shysters took to the highways and byways, suing to survive" (followed by "sue me"); "the first thing we do, let's fire all the lawyers"; and "all you lawyers ... can suck it from the unemployment line" are obviously comments showing great sympathy!

the christopher hundreds: News that 300 of the highest paid lawyers got canned today isn't going to ruffle many feathers outside the big-law nest.

Try to know what you're talking about. The people let go were the bottom of the power chain: associates and staff. Both are hardly the "highest paid" of a firm. In fact, they were let go so that the "highest paid" could preserve their status as "highest paid."
posted by WCityMike at 10:28 PM on February 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


A large part of the law is mind-boggingly tedious. Lawyers in big firms don't sit around all day trying to work out how they screw people over. A friend of mine, fresh out of law school, working at a big firm told me one day that he was working on the biggest litigation case in Australia at that time. He couldn't say what it was, but he made it fairly clear. He was very excited to be working on it. I saw him a week later and asked him how it was going. He told me that all his part of the case entailed was locking himself in a windowless room every day, and marking pages in box after box of documents with yellow sticky tabs according to a list he was given. It was actually work they could have given to a secretary, but because it was so sensitive the partners felt it would be better for a junior lawyer to do it. And that's ALL HE DID for six months, until finally he quit and got a job as legal counsel in an insurance firm.

I met another girl who after she chose her practice group, ended up doing nothing but document discovery for TWO YEARS. If you ever asked her about her chosen career she would break down in tears. She's a teacher now.

Out of all the people my SO attended law school with, almost none of them are still working in a big firm. The excruciatingly long hours, the extraordinarily tedious work, the insane demands of the clients (try having a client whose time zone is 12 hours away - just as you're ready to leave work for the day the client gets in to the office and starts sending emails that have to be answered right away and suddenly you've just worked a 20+ hour day).
posted by awfurby at 10:39 PM on February 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


monju_bosatsu is a lawyer himself. And as others have mentioned, that's one of the oldest jokes in the book.

Methinks you're mistaking gallows humor from insiders for an excuse to clutch your pearls.

That said, I probably would dance a little jig if this was an isolated case of Big Law Firms having their collective bubble popped, but with this economy nobody is safe right now.
posted by bardic at 10:46 PM on February 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


Try to know what you're talking about. The people let go were the bottom of the power chain: associates and staff. Both are hardly the "highest paid" of a firm. In fact, they were let go so that the "highest paid" could preserve their status as "highest paid."

Ah, but I do know a thing or two. I never said these were the highest paid in their firms. They are the highest paid of the profession though. These people earn a ton of money. Even given the extra schooling and possible debts, these people earn two or three times what their peers in smaller regional firms, or public interest jobs who have the same education and obligations.

I hope you're not out a job.
posted by the christopher hundreds at 11:11 PM on February 12, 2009


I'm sorry to hear about your job situation, WCityMike. During the last recession I was laid off from one job, and after I found another, I was laid off from that one, too. Hope you find something worthy of your talent, and soon; feel free to MefiMail me if there's anything I can do to help.
posted by mattdidthat at 12:29 AM on February 13, 2009


I think some of you LOLATTORNEYS!!11 folks might have a much more fair and realistic view of the practice of law if you watched less television.

My fair and realistic view of the practice of law comes from working my ass off for years at one of the aforementioned Firms and I couldn't be more pleased. I averaged 70 hours a week, averaged, doing inane horseshit for bloated jackasses who napped on their leather couches in their corner offices and litterally split over a billion dollars between them on the backs of underpaid, overworked peons like me. Being fired from a self-induced hell like that would have been the biggest favor the Firm could have done for me, instead I let it go on for years before I finally called it quits. Why I will never know, I suppose I'm a doormat.

Dios and awfurby have hit the hammer squarely on the nail!
posted by Pollomacho at 5:27 AM on February 13, 2009


How much of a jump is it to go from doing corporate law to doing public prosecutor/defender type work? A law degree being a law degree, I'd hope people could land on their feet by transitioning into areas where the demand is still high, if not higher than ever.
posted by bardic at 5:35 AM on February 13, 2009


I've been out of work for four months and I run across a Mefi FPP telling me that 500+ people nationwide just joined the ranks of the legal admin unemployed. Cracking open the post, I see what I see, get irritated, make a comment, and get ranked on by you for "clutching my pearls" and displaying "sanctimony."

WCityMike, I sympathize, I really do. I've been dumped from more than one job, and it's no fun (though I've always wound up being glad of it in the end, after I've moved on). But here's a bit of friendly advice: if you see a MeFi thread about a bunch of lawyers being laid off, don't crack it open. What were you hoping to find, a bunch of comments on the order of "man, that's too bad, I love lawyers"? You know lawyers have been the object of animus and jokes from the beginning of time, and you know MeFi loves nothing better than snarky jokes, so what you're really doing is deciding to bang a heavy stick on your broken toe. What's the point of coming in here, reading the entirely predictable snark, and getting all hurt? Go do something that will make you feel better. And for Pete's sake, just because people enjoy making lawyer jokes doesn't mean they hate you personally.
posted by languagehat at 6:33 AM on February 13, 2009


[String of comments removed. Next time take it elsewhere if it has to happen.]
posted by cortex at 6:33 AM on February 13, 2009


No problems in my area, so far. I have two neighbors who are lawyers, and they're both doing fine. One's a public prosecutor, gubment job, so he's somewhat secure. The other is a divorce lawyer, and divorces aren't likely to go out of vogue unless marriages do. (Plus, she's a real bitch, so I imagine she's also a really good divorce lawyer -- leverage those 'skills'!)

Now, WALLSTREET lawyers, yeah, I expect they'll be hurting. Anybody with a job related to Wallstreet probably has good reason to fear for their job security, lawyer or otherwise.

Not all lawyers are bad people. The gubment lawyer I mentioned, he's flat-out awesome. Our home burned down a few years ago, and he stepped right up to help. He let us use his shower and got us some shoes and clothes, then he kept nosy neighbors away from our rubble. And he watched our four cats for two weeks while we got ourselves settled in a rental house. He's a Dean Koontz fan, so I bought a signed 1st edition 1st printing of a Koontz book and gave that to him as a token of my appreciation. If anything bad ever happens to *him*, you can be sure I'll be there to help him pick up the pieces.

Another good lawyer story. My dad shirked paying child support for many years. When my mom died, a juvenile court lawyer guy tried to get me some of that money. He wanted my case because in my state, no child had ever successfully sued a father for child support (but in all the surrounding states, it has been done). He thought I had the best case he'd ever seen, and he wanted to set precedent in my state. Unfortunately, I turned 17, became an adult, and joined the Army, and the statute of limitations ran out. But he was a good lawyer, a genuinely good person, who was trying to make a difference for kids with shitty irresponsible dads.
posted by jamstigator at 6:35 AM on February 13, 2009


WSJ's Law Blog has a good write-up.

"There will be more," said consultant Peter Zeughauser. "Materially more. I'm aware of some big ones coming up."

Best wishes to any victims this morning.
posted by longdaysjourney at 7:51 AM on February 13, 2009


Sorry to leave a flippant comment at the beginning of the thread and then getting stuck doing other things (like trying to avoid getting laid off, hah!). As bardic and other have noted, I am indeed a lawyer, and work for a large law firm much like those that laid off so many employees yesterday. We have not laid off anybody yet, but the firm has frozen associate salaries, among other things. The size of our recruiting program has been reduced dramatically, and if things don't pick up soon, I expect some layoffs in the not-so-distant future.

A Wall Street centered recession like this one is a little strange for the BigLaw business, because certain practices are devastated, while others are going gangbusters. The structured finance practice (the business of creating all that bad paper) is obviously getting killed, although my firm is fortunate in the sense that we didn't have a big group focused on that practice. Our corporate m&a practice, however, has associates sitting around twiddling their thumbs and, presumably, posting on Above the Law. Bankruptcy, however, is busier than ever. Certain litigation practices are overwhelmed, while some are light. Public finance is surprisingly busy, as every debt-financed entity in the country figures out how to restructure their variable rate debt. Internal investigations are cropping up everywhere, as companies tightening their belts discover employee corruption that might have slipped by in fatter times. Securities, FCPA, and sanctions investigations all seem on the rise and the government heightens its enforcement priorities in those areas. It's a strange time to work for a large law firm.

The disparate impact on practices within the firm makes for a slightly awkward situation among the associate ranks. My practice group, for example, is as busy as ever. I could work 24 hours a day and still not finish everything I need to get done. Many associates in other sections have little to do, yet because of our largely lock-step compensation system, get paid similar amounts. That's fine in the short term, because it doesn't make sense for the law firm to lay off associates that it has invested tens and maybe hundreds of thousands of dollars in for a six month downturn. If the practice is going to stay slow for a year or two, however, the firm simply can't keep all those people on. In the meantime, the inefficiencies of work allocation and lock step compensation work to create some resentment among the associates.

The associates that will be hit hardest by this will be the newest ones (LIFO and all, y'know). The firm has not invested as much in training brand new associates yet, and those associates have not yet learned the skills that really make them marketable. The logical conclusion of this is that some firms are firing associates that haven't even started work yet. One San Diego firm, for example, rescinded the already-accepted offers to third-year law students that were slated to start this fall, and canceled their 2009 summer recruiting entirely. Those students haven't even started yet and they've already been fired from their first jobs. As a result, there is, and will continue to be, a glut of junior associates on the market who are marketable (at least to big firms) only as cannon fodder on big matters--matters that in many cases don't exist right now, and maybe won't exist for a couple of years.

That may not sound like that big a deal, because those young associates can always go a different route, and get jobs in government, or in smaller practices, and then move back to a big firm when work picks up, right? Not so fast. Those practices are down, too. Small business and families just don't want to spend the money on attorneys right now if they don't have to. Government jobs, even poorly paying ones, are in high demand and the competition is fierce, all the more so because of the glut of over-qualified and under-educated associates on the market. (I know, I just got turned down for a government job I really wanted). Moreover, career trajectories in BigLaw are surprisingly path dependent. If you start your career at a small firm or a plaintiff's shop, it can be quite difficult, if not impossible, to later move back to a big corporate firm. For those graduating law students and young associates that really have their eyes set on a big corporate m&a practice, they might not just be out of luck for a year or two, their chances of ever getting into that kind of practice are probably significantly reduced. I think the end result of the downturn is a two or three-year gap in big firm attorneys. The older associates will just have to take up the slack for now, and we'll hire a bunch of younger associates once the work picks up again. For the laid off first years and graduating law students: sorry, you're SOL.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 8:05 AM on February 13, 2009


As an aside, I think it would also be worthwhile to note that the law is such a varied practice, that the economy's status is always hurting or helping someone in the practice. In good times, divorces skyrocket so family law booms. In bad times, bankruptcy booms. In good times, commercial transactional and m&a booms . In bad times, civil litigation typically increases as individuals see it as another revenue source (or a lottery ticket) in desperate times. And vice versa. Or, at least, that seems to be the shared assumptions of a lot of my colleagues. Perhaps the swings are not that pronounced. Overall, a good economy is of course far more preferable. But a bad economy does offer some areas of opportunity in the law.

It's clear that everything is tight and only getting tighter and people will suffer. My only hope is that lessons are learned instead of just suffering through this and just going back to the same unsustainable path.
posted by dios at 8:38 AM on February 13, 2009


Gulfstream welfare queens have fared pretty well so I don't see why people getting unemployment insurance should feel bad, even lawyers. Shakespeare didn't say "kill all the lawyers" - that is always misquoted and taken out of context - they can be saviors such as the ones working for the Innocence Projects that help people who justice did not serve. There are people who do good work in every field.
posted by Bitter soylent at 9:02 AM on February 13, 2009


Sorry about the pedantic Shakespeare reference - I feel even worse when I bothered to read the comments before shooting off my big mouth.
posted by Bitter soylent at 9:09 AM on February 13, 2009


On topic, any current law student who chose "bankruptcy and foreclosure" law as their specialty is looking at a potential bright future.

Not really, actually - the majority of bankruptcy legal work lies in Chapter 11 reorganizations, and with the economic downturn happening as it is, the worry is that the majority of bankruptcies in the near future will be Chapter 7 liquidations, where you don't really need a lawyer to stick a "FOR SALE - EVERYTHING - CHEAP" on your business' front lawn.

On the other hand, criminal law is looking ever more reliable as an option, because crime never takes a holiday...
posted by mightygodking at 11:23 AM on February 13, 2009


And once again I picked the year ever!!!! to graduate from law school. You know it really sucks to work your ass off for 3 years, do a pretty decent job at it, volunteer a lot of time at various organizations and then be in the situation of being unemployed with 6 figure debt for the privilege.

It's also great how it gives so many people such joy to mock your situation. I mean really it's great. I'm sitting here studying for a second bar. I passed one bar already, but I'm trying to give myself a second market to apply to. And I'm studying for this bar all on my own without the course because I can't afford the course because I'm over 100k in debt and haven't had a job since last May and even that was only part time. So my chances of passing aren't great. But even so I was thinking after I take this bar, I'm getting sworn in so I'll be a real lawyer, then maybe I'll start taking on some pro bono cases, you know I could at least help some people with my skills even if I wouldn't be getting paid, and then I read this.

It's just great, makes my day that my misery and the misery of so many of my friends just tickles you all just so completely.
posted by whoaali at 12:00 PM on February 13, 2009


whoaali, sorry to here about your predicament. I encourage you to try to remain optimistic. I promise you there are options out there if you are flexible in what you want to do. And if you are uncertain about such options, please message me, and I would be willing to try to help brainstorm ideas for you.

As far as your debt, have you looked at consolidating your loans? You can usually do that into a ridiculously low rate and pay it off over like 30 years. And you even can get forbearance for the first couple of years where you make even lower payments for the first couple of years. If you do that, it will help such that you can get a job sufficient to make those payments.

I wish you the best of luck.
posted by dios at 12:15 PM on February 13, 2009


How much of a jump is it to go from doing corporate law to doing public prosecutor/defender type work? A law degree being a law degree, I'd hope people could land on their feet by transitioning into areas where the demand is still high, if not higher than ever.

It can be a pretty big jump. I work for an agency that provides free legal services, and we will always hire someone with a strong public interest background over someone trying to move over from a corporate career. Always.

And the market is probably going to be getting worse in a lot of the public interest fields too. When you're largely government funded, and the government can't make ends meet, well, legal services certainly gets cut before cops, firefighters, and teachers. (And rightly so. Still, the cost of a legal services attorney who can prevent evictions is a hell of a lot cheaper than families in shelters and all the attendant costs of homelessness.)
posted by Mavri at 3:03 PM on February 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


Adding to Mavri's comment . . . Governments and public interest organizations are really hurting. There aren't many opportunities out there for folks who haven't already shown (via personal recommendations, internships, etc.) that they can do the particular type of work at issue.

I used to work at a small civil rights law firm. Month after month they would receive scores of resumes from great second and third year associates at big law firms -- all of them unfortunately largely indistinguishable from the other. It's hard, though not impossible, to make the transition to public interest/public service work. You have to be different from the pack, however.

WCityMike (and everyone else who is searching for a job) I'm wishing you my best.
posted by ferdydurke at 5:44 PM on February 13, 2009


Growing up in the DC area (lawyer central) I always heard about how the fat-cats worked for the K-Street lobbying crowd, but there was an actual shortage of lawyers who wanted to do work as public defenders and so on. Are you saying it's actually harder to get one of those public interest type jobs than it is a super high-paying gig with Big Corporate Law Firm?

That said, it sounds like law schools could do a better job of training future lawyers for the actual demands of the market as opposed to only the really high-paying gigs. Then again, you could say this about a lot of different parts of the higher education system in America these days. The times they-are-a-changin'. And by that I mean, our economy is in the shitter for at least the next few years.
posted by bardic at 10:21 PM on February 13, 2009


My sister's fiancé was one of the 10% of Clifford Chance's UK associates who were handed their cards last Wednesday. It's a bloodbath.
posted by Dan Brilliant at 12:30 PM on February 14, 2009


Just wanted to pop into the thread again to say thank you to those who extended good wishes. Not the most fun of times.
posted by WCityMike at 5:27 AM on February 16, 2009


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