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Pillsbury Winthrop joined the growing number of law firms reacting to the economic downturn by tightening its belt, laying off 10 percent of its New York-based associates on Thursday and Friday. The move, said New York managing partner Donald Kilpatrick, is “wholly an economic layoff,” unrelated to individual performance issues or redundancies stemming from the January merger between Pillsbury Madison & Sutro and Winthrop, Stimson, Putnam & Roberts. “We thought coming out of the summer that the deal business and legal business, which had been in the doldrums for the better part of the year, was due for an uptick,” explained Kilpatrick. “But for Sept. 11,” he added, “that’s what would have happened.” A large share of the work at Pillsbury’s New York office is dedicated to capital markets and global corporate deals, both areas that have been especially slow of late. While the firm would not divulge the exact number of attorneys handed pink slips, it is presumably 11, as there are 109 associates in the New York office. All affected attorneys were informed of their fate in one-on-one meetings with partners, after which Kilpatrick dispatched an e-mail announcing the news to the entire New York office. Until two weeks ago, the associate layoffs afflicting many law firms were limited to the San Francisco Bay Area, where the technology market’s crash has been especially acute. The news Oct. 26 that New York’s Shearman & Sterling was lopping off 10 percent of its head count marked the first time the cost-cutting tactic had spread to the Big Apple. But Pillsbury, which is based in San Francisco and has offices in Los Angeles, London and Hong Kong, stopped short of ruling out further layoffs in its other locations. “I don’t think anyone at this point is making any promises about anything,” said Marina Park, firmwide managing partner. “We are not trying to handle this as the firm makes one sweeping announcement in one day.” For Pillsbury’s Bay Area associates, there was no illusion on Friday that the storm has passed them over. “I don’t think we expect it to happen any time soon,” said one San Francisco associate who wished to remain anonymous. But, he added, “You’re always worried about everything. I don’t think because you work in a law firm that you’re going to be immune from the rest of the economy.” According to Park, the New York layoffs came in response to a directive from the firm’s managing board. The board asked each regional office to take a hard look at its respective practices and come back with recommendations to help the firm weather the economic downturn. The New York office, which had already implemented cost-cutting measures such as limiting travel, came back with a proposal for layoffs about 10 days before last week’s action was taken. Kilpatrick defended the decision to lay off, calling it more than a mere cost-cutting measure. “It’s in everyone’s interest, the firm’s and the associates’, that there be a reasonable workload for everybody.” If people don’t get enough work, he added, it doesn’t give them the experience they need. The laid-off associates will all receive three months’ notice, as well as outplacement services. “It’s a painful thing to have to do,” said Park. “But you have to look at where things seem to be headed in the coming year.”

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