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In what appears to be the first law firm layoffs in South Florida resulting from the sluggish economy, Broad and Cassel has let go of several lawyers as well as at least a dozen paralegals and secretaries, according to a highly placed source at the firm. At the same time, partner Gary Carman has left to join Arnstein & Lehr, a Chicago firm with offices in Miami, Boca Raton and West Palm Beach. Carman said last week that he left Broad and Cassel in order to expand his practice and was drawn to Arnstein because he has clients in Chicago. According to the Broad and Cassel source, who asked not to be identified, one lawyer in Fort Lauderdale and about five in Miami were laid off. Four paralegals and secretaries in Fort Lauderdale and at least eight in Miami also were released, he said. Two-thirds of those laid off were involved in corporate transactional work, which was booming a year ago but which has dried up here and across the country. News of the layoffs was kept hush-hush, even inside the firm. A terse e-mail was sent to Broad and Cassel employees statewide two weeks ago notifying them of “changes being made” to maintain the law firm’s health. Eddie Burklin, chief operating officer of the 140-lawyer, full-service commercial firm, gave this statement to the Daily Business Review: “While we continue to exceed our financial projections established last year, during our midyear review we found it necessary to reduce our staffing levels statewide in order to ensure the long-term performance of the firm continues in a positive direction.” Burklin would not specify the number of layoffs. The South Florida legal community was buzzing over the news. “I heard they let some people go and are rethinking their strategy,” says Herb Hertner, president of Miami legal recruiter H. Hertner Associates. But he says he hasn’t heard of any other layoffs. “Firms are trying to maintain the staff they have. Litigation and bankruptcy are still very busy, but transactional is very quiet.” Layoffs have occurred at law firms in California and New York. Cooley Godward in San Francisco sent shock waves through the legal community last week when it laid off 135 people, including 85 associates and 50 paralegals. But South Florida has been relatively untouched by the L word — until now. Firms heavy on corporate and transactional work are considered the most vulnerable, while firms focusing on litigation and bankruptcy are seen as safer. According to the Broad and Cassel insider, some of the firm’s lawyers who were let go already have found new jobs, while some have not. All the support staff have landed other jobs, he said. Not all the laid-off employees specialized in transactional work. “It had to do with who was the most productive,” he said. “There wasn’t enough work for everyone. It was a very difficult decision for management.” The contraction in transactional legal work was not the only reason for the layoffs, said the source. Another big factor was the much higher associate salaries law firms were forced to pay last year, with some first-years making more than $100,000 a year. Ironically, Mike Segal, managing partner of Broad and Cassel’s Miami office, warned last year that the record associate salaries could drastically hurt law firms’ bottom lines. Other transactional law firms say mergers and acquisitions and other such corporate work is slow but that they’re hanging on and shifting resources to other areas. Charlie Schuette, the Miami-based chairman of Akerman Senterfitt, insists that his firm is doing fine and is not contemplating layoffs. “The economy started out really slow in January but this month was good,” he says. Still, Akerman has shifted its focus slightly, upping litigation from 20 percent to 40 percent of its total work, Schuette says. The good news for worried lawyers is that for those who still have a job may be experiencing a better quality of life this year than last year. Lawyers who used to bill 2,200 hours a year are now billing just 2,000, Schuette says. That trend is occurring throughout South Florida law firms, Hertner says. “Lawyers are not putting in the horrendous hours they used to,” he notes. Hertner says he’s “amazed” that he has heard of no other layoffs in South Florida so far, but adds, “a lot will tell in the next few months.”

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