Legal Field Layoffs: Does Anyone Have the Rolaids?

It’s not looking too good when the Labor Department announces large layoffs in the legal field.  Most of the time, the legal field is either not mentioned or is pretty quiet when job sector information is announced.

That’s all changed.  According to The AmLaw Daily, the U.S. legal service sector lost 1,100 jobs in May, according to U.S. Department of Labor statistics released last Friday.

The decline marked three consecutive months of losses for the industry and made up part of the 49,000 jobs lost in the overall market last month. The national unemployment rate increased to 5.5 percent, the highest increase in two decades, according to The New York Times.

Legal jobs were down 1.4 percent, the same decline the industry posted in April. That month, the sector lost 1,900 jobs. The WSJ Blog has also reported that Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal was responsible for a good chunk of the carnage, firing 124 employees, including 24 lawyers, late last month. Earlier in May, Holland & Knight pink-slipped 70 legal secretaries, due to “redundancies and inefficiencies,” according to a firm spokeswoman, while Bingham McCutchen laid off some 17 staff members in its Bay Area offices. (“We don’t send and receive nearly as many faxes as we did five years ago,” explained managing partner Geoffrey Howard.) You just discovered that?

In total, reports AmLaw Daily, 1.17 million people, or less than 1 percent of the overall U.S. job market, call themselves legal service employees. Overall, the sector has lost 9,700 jobs since a year ago, and 4,200 in the last six months, according to the Labor Department.

Whether you are in BigFirm, SmallFirm or AnyFirm, now is the time to protect yourself:  Don’t bury your heads in the sand, folks. Make yourself invaluable through knowledge of the field and your particular specialty.  Get yourself cross-trained so you are even more valuable to your firm. Be sure those billable hours are up and you are a proven revenue generating machine. And, just in case, get your resume polished up.  Even the best of the best can be taken by surprise.