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William F. Lee, the managing partner of Boston’s Hale and Dorr, played in a soccer league this summer. Before a recent game, a young associate from his firm ambled over. “Heard about Cooley?” the associate asked, referring to Cooley Godward, the Palo Alto, Calif., firm that had just laid off 86 associates. Lee nodded. The associate said, “Glad I’m here, not there.” Lee recounts the conversation to illustrate the mood at his firm. He believes that everyone is keeping a wary eye on the economy but that associates do not fear for their jobs. That was the theme sounded by several law firm managers in the aftermath of the Cooley Godward announcement on Aug. 23 — concern but no fear of big job losses. At the same time, however, there have been scattered layoffs in the intervening weeks. Interviews with managing partners and associates in Texas, Massachusetts, Georgia, New York, Oregon, New Jersey and Illinois suggest that problems like Cooley Godward’s are limited to firms that depended on dot-com business. “We’re rubbernecking,” says a young associate at Houston’s Vinson & Elkins. “We’re looking at the accident, but we’re not part of it.” Though pronouncing herself stunned by the layoffs, this associate insists that Vinson is “very stable.” Associate Nikola L. Jones of Portland, Ore.’s Lindsay, Hart, Neil & Weigler hadn’t heard of the layoffs when she was interviewed five days later. “I live in a cave,” she says. Her office has been so busy with medical malpractice and products liability cases, she says, that lawyers haven’t had time to focus on anything else. If her cave had been wired to legal message boards, she might have had trouble concentrating. A posting on Vault, a Web site offering insider information on law firms, predicted that more layoffs would follow. “Its begun,” the message proclaimed ominously, albeit ungrammatically. Ironically, only 10 days before Cooley Godward dropped its bombshell, the firm was voted “Best Law Firm to Work For” in Vault’s annual nationwide survey of 9,000 associates. Message boards at another Web site, Greedy Associates, sizzled for days. One message predicted an “early Halloween surprise [sic]” at a particular California firm, and said of another: “ Its [sic] going to be really bloody there.” FindLaw, which hosts Greedy Associates, ran a poll on its careers page asking: “How nervous are you about layoffs?” After 1,100 votes were recorded, the results revealed that 26 percent of respondents had already been laid off, and another 43 percent were worried that layoffs at their firms were imminent. DOWNSIZING — AND RECRUITING Reports in The Recorder, a San Francisco newspaper affiliated with The National Law Journal and law.com, suggest that there may be cause for concern. On Sept. 6, Fenwick & West laid off 32 (roughly 14 percent) of its associates. Other California firms like Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati, Morrison & Foerster and Brobeck, Phleger & Harrison had also been downsizing, the paper reported, curtailing lateral hiring and calling cuts of 5 percent to 10 percent “attrition” rather than layoffs. On the East Coast, New York’s Brown Raysman Millstein Felder & Steiner informed five associates in its information technology department that they would be laid off. It also confirmed that it would extend offers to no more than two-thirds of its summer associates, rather than the usual 90 percent. And about six lawyers were laid off by Orlando, Fla.’s Broad and Cassel, which confirmed the cuts but not the precise number. (These cuts were reported in the NLJ-affiliated New York Law Journal and Miami Daily Business Review, respectively.) Yet, during the week after the Cooley Godward announcement, Linda Green Pierce’s phone was hardly ringing off the hook. Calls to Pierce, a recruiter at Northwest Legal Search in Portland, Ore., were up about 15 percent that week, she says. She always has a steady stream from California, but she doesn’t expect a huge influx from Cooley Godward. Lawyers catering to the high-tech field are more likely to land in Austin, Texas, or Reston, Va., she says. She believes the legal business is stable: “Firms remain relatively busy.” Cooley Godward’s problems were caused by the drying up of work in one narrow area after it had undergone rapid expansion. Other firms didn’t hire as many people as the 180 lawyers Cooley Godward hired in 2000, and they weren’t as invested in Internet companies, Pierce says. Stephen C. Neal, Cooley Godward’s chairman and CEO, also downplays the need for a crisis mentality. He says that his firm’s revenues are actually up this year. Laying off 17 percent of the firm’s associates was necessary, Neal says, because Cooley Godward had hired them to meet its growing business, a large portion of which involved technology companies, especially startups. The falloff in that sector has been more dramatic and prolonged than anyone anticipated, he says, leaving some lawyers at his firm “grossly underutilized.” Rather than resort to punitive performance reviews, as other firms have done, Neal says, Cooley Godward resolved to “tackle it head-on.” “One of the ironies,” he says, “is that we’re in good shape.” Tom Antisdel, who runs FindLaw’s legal career center, agrees that California firms have used abnormally harsh performance evaluations to gloss over layoffs. The attrition numbers are misleading because last year many more associates left voluntarily to pursue dot-com opportunities or jobs at other firms. He knows the market, he says, because his office is in Mountain View, Calif., and he’s worked with about 50 headhunters over the past two years, passing on r�sum�s posted on his site. Antisdel says the anxiety reflected in his site’s poll may be a truer reflection of the mood at many firms than responses to a reporter’s questions. Many lawyers, even those offered anonymity, are intent on maintaining “a good game face.” Though the tech and corporate areas are most affected, problems in the economy can no longer be neatly isolated, he adds. But the managing partner of a large law firm, who requested anonymity, says, “I think people who respond to polls on the Internet are people who start with concerns, so they are not necessarily a representative sampling.” Polls aside, it’s the lateral market that will be tightest in the next few months, predicts Lynn Mestel, president of Mestel & Co., a placement consulting firm. Associates will not be changing firms the way they have the past three years. Mestel doubts that firms will follow Cooley Godward’s lead. “I’ve watched many law firms handle this poorly,” Mestel says. “Too often they let too many people go. These people … are difficult to replace.”

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