Seyfarth Shaw has laid off three lawyers and four support staff at its Atlanta office because of the economic downturn, according to the firm's local managing partner, Paul P. Mattingly.
The cuts are part of a firmwide layoff of about 30 lawyers and staff employees that the Chicago-based firm announced internally last week. The memo discussing the layoffs was posted on the legal gossip blog Above the Law.
Mattingly confirmed that the firm issued the memo and said the lawyers being laid off in Atlanta were all below partner level. He declined to say what practices were shedding lawyers, out of concern for their privacy.
"I'm not concerned about announcing layoffs publicly because these days they're a fact of life. However, to protect the privacy and anonymity of the impacted people, I don't want to specify what practice groups were impacted," he said.
Mattingly, a real estate lawyer, did say that the cuts were in practices most affected by the economic downturn.
Seyfarth's 88-lawyer Atlanta office has a sizeable group of real estate practitioners, making up a third of its head count. The local office has a total of 36 real estate and construction practitioners, according to its Web site. The firm's other significant practice areas in Atlanta are litigation, labor and employment and corporate.
The heavy real estate concentration likely explains why the Atlanta office was affected disproportionately by the cuts. The local office sustained 23 percent of the layoffs, even though, according to the firm's Web site, it comprises only 11 percent of the 832-lawyer firm's attorney population.
By contrast, only about 10 percent of the lawyers in Seyfarth's Chicago headquarters are real estate practitioners, according to the Web site. That office is roughly three times the size of the firm's office in Atlanta. Seyfarth has nine offices in major U.S. cities such as New York, Boston and Los Angeles, plus an office in Brussels, Belgium.
Numerous firms locally and nationally have been laying off lawyers since the economy weakened -- and the pace is accelerating. But only a few firms have made no secret of the layoffs.
Chicago's Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal distinguished itself with its candor in May after laying off 124 people, including 37 lawyers, mostly in real estate and litigation. The firm's chairman publicly said the layoffs were because the economy had reduced work in those areas.
Most firms still opt for "stealth" layoffs, preferring to cull lawyers and staff just a few at a time, in the hope that the cuts will escape the notice of the legal community -- and, often, even people in their own firm.
They are loath to announce they are shedding associates and staff because business has slumped, fearing it will affect their ability to recruit and retain laterals and out of concern that it could damage the chances for those laid off of getting a position with another firm.
Many firms also prefer to say cuts are performance-related because they worry about the stigma of admitting they don't have enough work to keep all of their staff and associates busy.
Seyfarth bucked the trend with last week's e-mail memo explaining that it was laying off employees because of the economic downturn.
"Since layoffs have become so pervasive, clarifying that they were not for performance reasons, but because of market conditions, seemed like the fair thing to do," said Mattingly.
The Atlanta office's leader was guardedly optimistic about his firm's ability to weather the worsening economic conditions. "Like everyone else, we're trying to figure out 2009," he said. "We've got good countercyclical practices in labor and employment, bankruptcy and litigation, and a creative, lean group of transactional attorneys."
"It sucks out there, but we feel we're in as good a position to succeed in this environment as any firm," he said.
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