According to a post on Above the Law, Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal has recently laid off 37 lawyers, 75 staff members, and 12 nonlawyer timekeepers. Firm Chairman Elliot Portnoy said the firm's litigation and real estate departments -- the firm's largest practices -- were most directly affected.
"I talked to our people about steps that have been taken by firms that we compete with for clients and talent," Portnoy told ATL. "Some have done it openly and transparently, and some have not. We were not going to attempt to do this [reduction in force] below the radar. We were going to do this as openly and transparently as we could. We would not attempt to pass this off as performance-based."
This echoes something Portnoy told The American Lawyer in a February 2007 cover story about the firm's lateral growth strategy. "I'm a very big believer in no surprises for all of our partners," Portnoy said then.
Earlier this month, Portnoy told a reporter from the American Lawyer that the current economic climate had affected the firm's lateral push. “Naturally in a challenging economic climate, we’ve ramped up the due diligence process," he said. "We don’t want to hire partners who are under-performing, so [managing partners] are all looking more intently when a lateral comes across our desk.”
Portnoy checked in with the American Lawyer from Kansas City Wednesday morning, where he's proceeding with previously scheduled meetings with partners, associates and staff. He said the reason the firm has been so public about the layoffs is to avoid the "specter that these were performance-based" moves. "It would be inconsistent to pass this off as something that it is not," he said.
Portnoy says the severance packages offered to staff vary according to their length of service to the firm, and that the firm is trying to help lawyers affected by the moves with out-placement services. “We’re reaching out to clients, to search firms with whom we do business, to our alumni network to find opportunities for departing lawyers," he says.
Additional reporting by Nate Raymond