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Two large Philadelphia law firms have laid off large numbers of support staff this week. Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis handed out pink slips to 30 legal secretaries and administrative personnel, and Montgomery, McCracken, Walker & Rhoads has let go 11 administrators. Schnader Harrison chairman Ralph Wellington referred an inquiry into the situation to Philadelphia managing partner Diana Donaldson, who declined to be interviewed but released the following statement: “Like all top firms in today’s market, Schnader is taking steps to improve quality and efficiency at every level,” Donaldson said. “A study of our administrative and support staff found that our Philadelphia office was maintaining staffing levels that exceeded, by a factor of two or three, the levels required by most firms our size. “These higher levels were primarily a result of our intense merger activity and recent improvements in our information and communications systems. We see this as a financially responsible move that will correct this situation and improve our ability to further our national strategic expansion.” Montgomery McCracken vice chairman Steve Madva said his firm did not let go any secretaries or paralegals. The firm did hand out pink slips to three of its four top employees in its marketing department, as well as staffers in the information systems, financial services and human resources departments. “Regrettably, we had to do some belt-tightening because expenses have gone through the roof,” Madva said. “We had a full staff with some redundancies. These are difficult times. We’d like to think we are immune to economic downturns, but the reality is that we’re not. With health care and malpractice costs continuing to rise, we had to make some tough choices.” The layoffs in Montgomery McCracken’s marketing department, Madva said, signal a change in the firm’s philosophy toward marketing. Partner Lou Petroni will assume leadership of the firm’s marketing function. Though most large firms are moving toward the trend of having high-level marketing professionals, there are still a few — Ballard Spahr Andrews & Ingersoll and Cozen O’Connor — that want lawyers to head marketing ventures. Madva said he believed the firm had too many employees in the MIS department based on its function. He said there was a similar situation in the financial services department. “We’ve heard of other big firms that have scaled back on support staff, but not at these kinds of numbers,” said Jim LaRosa, president of the JuriStaff legal search firm. “The ratio of lawyers per secretary has gradually changed over the years from 1-to-1 to 2-to-1 and 3-to-1. Unfortunately, support staff are often viewed as non-revenue generators, so if a firm needs to do some belt-tightening, they often look in that direction. “It can often wind up being a little shortsighted in the sense that if there are less secretaries handling administrative tasks, you are going to have a lot of lawyers typing letters and stuffing envelopes when they could be billing work. But as the number of computer-literate lawyers increases with time, the 3-to-1 ratio will be easier to manage.” Merrill Grumer, head of Merrill Grumer Associates Inc., a legal search firm that specializes in placing legal secretaries and paralegals, said that most firms are working under a 2-to-1 ratio, but that some have pushed it to 3-to-1. Grumer said her experience is that the 3-to-1 ratio does not work unless firms are strategic in implementing it. “When it’s implemented as a firmwide policy, then [secretaries] often feel it inhibits their ability to get on top of the workload,” Grumer said. “Some lawyers generate so much work that they basically need their own secretary. So a firm really has to find the right match if they want to have a secretary handle work for three lawyers.”

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