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Boston-based Mintz, Levin, Cohn, Ferris, Glovsky and Popeo last week acknowledged that a recent slowdown in business has prompted it to lay off roughly a dozen of its rank-and-file attorneys, including an associate in its New Haven, Conn., office. Managing Partner Irwin Heller said another New Haven associate also was let go during a similarly-sized round of layoffs in April, following associate performance reviews that were completed after the close of the firm’s fiscal year on March 31. Mintz Levin opened an Elm City, Conn., office last September to service the state’s emerging high-tech and biotech companies. Both New Haven attorneys who were laid off did work mainly for the high-tech sector. Irwin admitted that the firm has experienced a recent slowdown in such work, but said that its biotech and life sciences practice in Connecticut remains “extremely busy.” Mintz Levin, added Heller, has hired as many attorneys firmwide as it has laid off in recent months, only the additions have come in areas other than its business and finance division, where most of the cuts have occurred. “We haven’t shrunk at all,” he insisted, calling the layoffs an exercise in “reallocating resources.” Furthermore, those who lost their jobs did so as the result of poor performance evaluations, Heller maintained. “If I were a client, I’d be happy that my law firm was taking the time to strengthen itself,” he said. RIGHT ON SCHEDULE With the two layoffs, Mintz now has two partners and nine associates based in its New Haven office, which, Heller promised, won’t experience further downsizing. “We’re very comfortable with the head count we have [there] now,” he said. Both the office’s total revenues and the number of attorneys on staff are “right on schedule” with projections made when the office opened last year, he added. Still, Heller said “there’s no question [the layoffs offer] a window into what’s going on” in the legal community, which is facing a slowdown in work combined with escalating associate salaries. First-year associates at Mintz Levin’s Boston office earn an annual base salary of $125,000. “You obviously have less patience for associates as they develop than you can have if they are earning $90,000 or $100,000,” Heller conceded. “It just makes it so you have less time, less patience with them.” Heller, however, was quick to caution that the “true driver of this is the slowing economy, not the salary increases.” He also noted that the firm has grown by 190 lawyers within the last year. News of the layoffs spread like wildfire on associate chat boards on the Internet, which are buzzing with rumors of job cuts at other Boston firms. So far, all of those firms have denied such reports. Managing partners at Connecticut firms also say they have no plans to give out pink slips, in part because they haven’t raised their associate salary levels as high as their competitors did in Boston and other larger legal markets. But Paula Patton, executive director of the National Association for Law Placement, said, “The time is right for layoffs with the economy being what it is.” With the hiring frenzy for raw recruits in recent years, “I’m not surprised that firms have excess capacity,” she added. STILL RECRUITING Mintz Levin surprised many legal observers last year when it opened the local outpost by recruiting Frank J. Marco, then head of the emerging companies practice group at Hartford, Conn.-based Day, Berry & Howard, the state’s largest firm. Before then, out-of-state regional and national firms, without exception, had picked either Hartford or Stamford when deciding to tap into the state’s legal market. At the time, Heller said the New Haven office, coupled with Mintz Levin’s existing New York outpost, would allow the firm to cover the entire state. He also cited Yale University, as well as the dozens of biotech firms that operate in the greater New Haven area, as contributing to the new office’s location. Almost immediately, the firm’s aggressive recruiting — and above-market wages — jarred its local competitors, so much so that New Haven-based Wiggin & Dana quickly hiked base pay for certain targeted members of its rank and file by $20,000 or more to keep them from jumping ship. Sources, however, say that Mintz Levin has scaled back its recruiting efforts — a contention Heller denied. “We’re still in conversations with people about joining us” in New Haven, he said. Those recruitment efforts, however, are mainly focused on lawyers with biotech experience, he added. Though lacking a personal knowledge of Mintz Levin, an attorney placement consultant, who wished to remain anonymous, said that branch offices that rely heavily on Connecticut clients for work face difficulty because local corporations often are unwilling to pay high hourly rates to support the outpost’s above-market salaries. Heller, however, said that the firm’s Connecticut office stays busy doing a mix of both Connecticut-based work and assignments generated by Mintz Levin lawyers in Boston and New York. Likewise, those offices frequently handle work that originated in Connecticut, he said. Associated Press reports are included in this story.

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