Two more New York law firms have laid off some staff amid the coronavirus pandemic, citing the strain from courthouse closures and emergency orders to shut down offices.
Goldberg Segalla, an Am Law 200 firm that has more than 400 lawyers and is known for its insurance defense work, and Belkin Burden Goldman, a firm of about 50 lawyers focused on real estate, have both cut staff in recent days, sources said, with Belkin Burden also cutting salaries.
Law.com reported last week that Robinson Brog, another midsize firm, also cut some staff.
At Buffalo-founded Goldberg Segalla, managing partner Richard Cohen told Law.com in an email that the firm made an unspecified number of layoffs, “largely … those whose responsibilities would be unessential or moot in the current work environment.” He said demand for the firm’s services has remained strong but said safety had to come before finances.
“The reality now, however, is that courts are closed across our footprint, we can’t access most of our physical offices, and governments, as well as business leaders, are making necessary decisions that prioritize public health and safety and accept a certain measure of temporary economic difficulty as a result,” he wrote in an email. “We are doing our part.”
He said the cuts “followed the firm’s previously established business continuity plan, which outlined reductions across various departments based on the circumstances for invoking the plan.”
He said the firm has provided severance but said it hopes to rehire once the situation improves. “Our expectation is that many of these team members will return to our firm as soon as possible,” Cohen said.
While three sources said that firm personnel were cut off at Goldberg Segalla, it’s not entirely clear which positions were affected and the total number of layoffs.
At Manhattan-based Belkin Burden, co-managing partner Jeffrey Goldman said in an email to Law.com there had been “some adjustments to staffing” and said the firm hoped to eventually hire people back. Two sources, including a person who previously worked at the firm, said about two-thirds of the firm’s support staff, which had totaled about 25 people, was laid off without severance, while some staff and lawyers had their salaries halved.
Goldman declined to comment on the number of layoffs, severance or salary cuts, but said no lawyers were laid off. He wrote, “Our firm is committed to making every effort to retain all staff at the highest salaries possible until this crisis passes, with an intention of trying to return to full staffing as soon as economic circumstances permit.”
The midsize firm layoffs come amid fears of a global recession, courthouse closings and growing restrictions on public gatherings and business activity in New York and elsewhere in response to the global pandemic of COVID-19. One of the biggest impacts on firms is the sudden halt on nearly all kinds of civil litigation recently imposed by the New York court system.
“The effective closure of all courts and administrative agencies impacts all firms with a litigation and administrative practice throughout the state,” Goldman wrote. “The same would hold true for all transactional practices given the [New York] state and city declarations of emergencies.”
Like their clients, some law firms have switched mostly or totally to have their lawyers and staff work from home. Remote desktops and cloud-based legal practice management and meeting software have helped.
But some small and midsize firms lack the technical capabilities and know-how of Big Law peers, lawyers and law firm staff have said, making a sudden shift away from an office environment difficult. It’s not clear whether issues with remote work for staff played any role at Goldberg Segalla or Belkin Burden.
Christine Simmons and Gina Passarella contributed to this report.
Clarification: This story has been clarified to reflect that no lawyers were laid off at Belkin Burdin.