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Seeking Innovative Alternatives to Layoffs

June 5, 2009

So here we are, almost halfway through the year (a year that’s all about surviving, as my mortgage broker friend characterized it).  There are still some  negative signs for the legal market, with continued layoffs and reduction or elimination of summer associate programs at some firms.  There have been some encouraging signs as well, with some firms starting or continuing to hire laterals again. 

Then there are also signs that some firms are beginning to see the shortsightedness of massive layoffs and looking for alternatives.  Some large firms have chosen a more palatable option of reducing salaries across the board.  While cutting salary isn’t an ideal scenario, there’s a good argument to be made that the associates at those firms are still pretty well compensated.  Additionally, let’s face it, lawyers, on the whole, will rather have a slightly smaller paycheck from their current employer than an unemployment check from the goverment. 

Then there’s the relatively (so far) novel approach of international firm Mayer Brown.  Like many other firms, it faced the prospect of layoffs for some of its associates.  What the firm did, however, was place several of its associates with firm clients, while continuing to pay them, albeit at a significantly-reduced salary.  The firm benefits by keeping the clients happy with the ability to continue to provide service.  The clients benefit by having attorneys perform their work without paying their salaries.  The associates benefit by continuing to have jobs and gaining the experience of working in-house.  And everyone can take a wait-and-see approach to see how the arrangement will work in the future.

In times like these, firms that find innovative solutions could be the ones reaping benefits in the long run.

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