In an unusual move, Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr is telling some of its more experienced lawyers that it's time to look for jobs somewhere else.
William Perlstein, co-managing partner of the firm, tells the BLT that some associates and counsel have been told that they won't have jobs at the firm after this coming fall. Perlstein acknowledges that at least some of the cuts are tied to the economic downturn, though he stresses that the firm isn't having layoffs.
"There is certainly an economic component in situations where you have someone who is doing OK and who would otherwise be kept. But with less work, and if they're not making the progress they should, they are being told they should start looking for another position," Perlstein says. "Nobody is being handed a check and told that they have to leave tomorrow. They're being told they have a number of months to find other work."
Perlstein says that the reductions for senior associates and counsel come as a result of a new career advancement program that the firm implemented late last year. Under the new program, associates and counsel are either promoted within specified time frames, or told to "pursue other careers" if they aren't likely to be recommended for advancement. With promotions scheduled for later this year, Perlstein says that for the first time, the firm is issuing advanced warnings to those unlikely to make the cut.
"This isn't anything formal. It's more of a heads-up," Perlstein says.
Perlstein says he doesn't know how many lawyers are receiving the warnings.
The firm also provided a statement to legal gossip blog Above the Law, which first reported rumors about possible departures at Wilmer.
Here is the firm's statement:
We have done no layoffs and we have no layoffs planned. Unlike many of the firms that have conducted layoffs, we did not go into the recession with highly leveraged practices that suddenly collapsed. That said, many of our clients have been adversely affected by the recession and we therefore have seen a decline in demand for legal services in some practice areas. This does have consequences for how we manage attorneys, and economic considerations and demand for services do affect the career guidance we give lawyers, but we have not conducted layoffs and have no plans to do so. What you may have heard also is that we have, over the past two years, developed a career advancement program, which is intended to give more meaningful career guidance to our associates, senior associates and counsel. As that program is implemented and mentors meet with associates and counsel, career messages are given which may lead over time to departures.
The firm will continue to monitor economic conditions and client needs. As you may know, we have reviewed our budget and tightened it further, delayed the incoming associate start dates and created a deferral program, and we are not doing a significant amount of lateral hiring at this time. Performance reviews will continue to be held twice a year, during the spring and fall.
For continuing coverage of the market meltdown, see Updated Special Report: Crisis on Wall Street.
This article first appeared on The BLT: The Blog of Legal Times.