Nixon Peabody is parting ways with 20 attorneys and 36 staffers — just the latest in a long string of law firm layoffs.

Firm managing partner and Chief Executive Richard F. Langan Jr. called the cuts “prudent management” in a statement released on Tuesday.

“While we enter 2009 with a solid platform to build upon, we are also faced with many business challenges that other law firms face — reductions in client demand for legal services which result in reduced work volumes for attorneys and paralegals, in the face of an increasing cost of doing business.”

A firm spokeswoman offered few other details about the cuts, except to say that they affect only the firm’s U.S. offices. Nixon Peabody has locations in 15 U.S cities, as well as four international offices. The spokeswoman declined to say what practice areas were hit with attorney layoffs, and if the departing attorneys are all associates.

Langan’s statement said that the departing staffers and attorneys were being “treated fairly and with compassion.”

“Our people are our most valued asset and the decision to downsize is hard. Our values and culture set us apart from other firms and we are deeply affected by today’s events,” reads Langan’s statement.

Like many other industries, the legal sector has seen significant job reductions since the economic downturn. In January alone, the legal service sector shed 1,300 jobs, according to the U.S. Department of Labor Statistics. February isn’t looking to be any brighter. Just a third of the way through the month, layoffs have been announced at least four prominent firms, with additional cuts at several smaller shops. In addition to Nixon Peabody, San Diego-based Luce, Forward, Hamilton & Scripps laid off 27, Washington-based Hogan & Hartson offered buyouts to about 240 staffers and McDermott Will & Emery laid off 60 associates and 89 staffers.

Nixon Peabody looked to be in a fairly solid position late last year, when it picked up about 66 attorneys from the defunct firm Thelen. At that time, Langan said the addition was part of a strategic plan to grow internationally and domestically.

The layoffs were first reported in the online legal blog Above the Law.