Profile woman By Loni Morganelli

American Paralegal in London


As 2009 ends its first month of the year, a total of 1,487 staff layoffs have been reported across some of the country’s biggest law firms.  This is only the number that BigFirms are reporting and does not include paralegals or staff who have been reduced to part-time. The number does not include layoffs in mid-size or small firms nor in-house legal departments. It also does not include London's magic circle nor its in-house legal departments and midsize law partnerships. 

According to various news reports, at least 500 attorneys have been laid off by major legal employers.  Topping this list includes big name firms such as Ropes & Gray, Clifford Chance, Linklaters, Cooley Choate Hall & Stewart, Kirkland & Ellis, Foley Hoag, Morrison & Foerster, and Merrill Lynch.  The rest of this daunting one thousand plus figure makes up attorneys let go that didn’t reach the media’s attention and paralegals and other support staff. 


“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.  Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom, one of the world’s most prominent law firms, for example, has laid off an unspecified number of staff attorneys apparently amounting to nearly half of the staff attorney group (  Such figures are very troublesome.  For an industry that has always boomed and been a positive career direction for so many, times have certainly turned sour. 


Paralegals working at these law firms, if not already aware, need to be especially cognizant of their firm’s financial and staff movements.  If you start to feel as though you’re feeling the pinch at work, it's time to work fast to tighten up your belt and make yourself irreplaceable.  Alternatively, if you see many of your colleagues beginning to jump ship, pay attention as well because the ship may be about to sink! 


A tanking economy continues to spell disaster for many in the legal field.  As companies go under, many firms are bracing their own misfortunes by implementing recruitment freezes, salary reductions, a decrease in employee benefits to help cut costs, and unfortunately layoffs for hard-working staff.  Paralegals, which make up a big portion of these hard-workers, are no exception to the rule.  In a time of fast-paced, unprecedented change, paralegals across the country and our borders cannot afford to live in a cocoon. 

Signs that your firm may be facing layoffs:

1.    Office gossip:  Sometimes rumors are leaked on purpose to soften the blow.  While office gossip is not always the most reliable source, management may "leak" the news so employees are not side-swiped.

2.    Cutbacks in hiring.

3.    Attorneys are let go.  In this recession, it appears that attorneys were the first to be let go followed by support staff and paralegals.  In other recessions, it has been the other way around.

4.    Major cutbacks in office supplies, dues, travel, reading materials, free stuff such as soda, cancellation of firm parties, expenses and more.

5.    No firm holiday party. 

6.    Overtime is restricted.

7.    A branch office is dissolved or "relocated".

8.    Salary freezes.

9.    New management or consultants arrive whose position is actually that of a turnaround artist or efficiency expert.

10.   Partner compensation is reported as less than in previous years.  Partners grumble very, very loudly.