IT’S NOT ME, IT’S YOU - Big Law is looking to cut head count because of the struggling economy without, y’know, making it look like they’re cutting head count because of the struggling economy. With performance reviews underway at law firms this quarter, industry observers told Law.com’s Justin Henry that Kirkland & Ellis won’t be the only top 50 firm using billable hours and work quality as reasons to weed out so-called underperformers during a period of slower demand in the legal industry. Firm leaders say performance reviews of associates have multiple uses to firms—sometimes a form of feedback on an associate’s career trajectory at the firm, an evaluation to inform year-end bonus compensation or an occasion to tell them to find new employment. But such evaluations never take place in a vacuum and are impacted by broader market forces like demand for legal services and the potential for a recession in the coming months, according to recruiters and consultants in contact with recently let-go associates. “Firms would rather say we have to lay off people because of performance,” said Brian Levinson, founder of Alevistar Legal Search in Philadelphia. “When things are really good, they are not looking to trim their head count. But when things slow down, it makes sense to get rid of their least productive performers.”

NO TIME LIKE THE PRESENT - Law firms aren’t the only ones making decisions right now that they probably wouldn’t make under better circumstances. As Law.com’s Heather Nevitt writes in this week’s Barometer newsletter, there is already significant pressure on legal departments, now add onto that budget season, a looming recession, a continuing challenge around overwhelming workloads and systemic burnout, and you get the picture. The current climate could force legal department leaders to adopt short-term thinking, to the long-term detriment of their businesses. As one GC put it: “Do we have the time to address the more forward-looking, longer-term issues? In some sense, corporations are not unlike a family trying to decide whether they are going to save for college or put food on the table.” “The other issue is simply bandwidth,” the GC continued. “There is a perception outside the walls of a corporation that corporations have sort of unlimited resources—that whatever needs to get done, gets done. There are a limited number of people who have a limited amount of time.” To receive the Law.com Barometer directly to your inbox each week, click here.

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