With so many staff and associate reductions made over the past few years in an attempt to cut costs during the recession, Zimmermann says that he thinks the next round of layoffs will more negatively affect partners.
The American Lawyer's most recent survey of law firm leaders, published in November, backed up that sentiment. Among the respondents, 45.5 percent said they had de-equitized partners in the past year, which is often the first step toward asking a partner to leave. Roughly the same percent said they expected to do so in 2013.
Staffs also affected
Staffs were certainly not immune from layoffs over the past year. Dorsey & Whitney, for instance, trimmed 20 support staff from its ranks last summer, while Greenberg Traurig laid off staff to achieve a four-to-one attorney-to-secretary ratio, according to sibling publication the Daily Business Review in Miami.
Reuters reported in August on staff layoffs at Fish & Richardson and Fulbright & Jaworski, the latter of which was announced in a November merger with London-based legal giant Norton Rose. Legal blog Above the Law also noted potential stealth layoffs at Dickstein Shapiro and Winston & Strawn.
A few Am Law 200 firms also decided to shut offices last year, either as the result of partner losses or a strategic shift away from a given market. Baker & McKenzie announced the closure of its San Diego office in March; Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman exited the Orange County, Calif., market in June; and Nixon Peabody closed its Paris office in December. (The news wasn't all bad, however; The Am Law Daily has covered dozens of office openings in the past year.)
The collection of changes, in Zimmermann's opinion, all point to a similar cause: "As pricing pressure from clients continues, firms have become less tolerant of chronically underperforming lawyers, practice areas and offices. That's resulting in more cuts."
Sara Randazzo writes for The Am Law Daily, a Daily Report affiliate.