Large law firms aren't the only ones faced with the stark reality of staffing concerns in this economy. The already budget-crunched Philadelphia District Attorney's Office -- a large law firm in its own right -- has had to do something it has never done: Rescind offers to its incoming class of attorneys.
The office rescinded offers to the 12 incoming attorneys who were set to start in the fall, according to Kathleen McDonnell, chief of legislation and head of the hiring committee in the District Attorney's Office.
McDonnell said it was a "heartbreaking" decision that was only made after several other measures failed to improve the office's staffing situation.
The 300-attorney office typically sees about 10 percent attrition each year, which enables it to bring in a class of up to 35 people, as it did last year. But in this latest fiscal year, only about two people left, McDonnell said.
The class set to come in this fall was already smaller, with eight of the office's interns -- who are akin to summer associates -- receiving offers around October 2008 and another four external candidates receiving offers at the end of the traditional recruiting season in December, as outlined by the National Association for Legal Career Professionals.
In attempts to further improve the office's budget situation, which already saw a 5 percent budget cut partway through the current fiscal year, McDonnell said she decided to move the start date back from mid-August 2009 to late September.
District Attorney Lynne Abraham also did away with the informal three-year commitment policy in which all attorneys are asked to stay for at least three years and would need a valid reason to leave before that time was up. McDonnell said, "Nobody even bit."
McDonnell said that, given the dire state of the city's financial outlook, it became clear that the smaller class size, delayed start dates and loosening of the three-year commitment policy were not going to be enough to justify bringing in any new attorneys.
The office contacted the 12 attorneys last week by phone to let them know of the decision, and an official letter was sent out this week.
In the letter, McDonnell said, she told the applicants she would be happy to act as a referral source and would be interested in re-hiring if the office's budget picture changed for the better.
She explained in the letter that the city's fiscal crisis wouldn't likely be resolved soon, so they should start looking for jobs as soon as possible. McDonnell said that, if the office's financial situation looks better when the budget is finalized in June, she would contact them first as they were the best of the initial candidates.
McDonnell said in an interview that she made calls to other district attorney's offices in the area. While many of them have hiring freezes in place, they can hire if a vacancy opens up and a few of the offices seemed very interested in taking on some of the candidates, she said.
McDonnell said the decision to make the cuts now was really in "all fairness to the applicants," many of whom would have had to make a move to come to Philadelphia for the job.
As the office looks to enter another round of budget talks, McDonnell said, she isn't sure what will happen. She said they are expecting more cuts in their budget but couldn't know for sure. When asked whether rescinding the offers might help the office ward off any additional cuts when they go before City Council, McDonnell said: "Will it help? I don't know." She said, however, that was not why the cuts were made.