Editor's Comment: The R word
As job cuts cleave their way through the profession, law firms are having to deal with the dreaded R word - redundancy - a concept they have never been that comfortable with. But they are set to get some practise as it's quite likely that 1,000 jobs will have gone from major UK law firms by the end of the year, split roughly 50/50 between fee earners and support staff.To bring some context, that would be a little deeper than 2002-03. But such a level of cuts would come from a sector employing over well over 100,000 in the UK, excluding High Street and criminal lawyers. That is getting off pretty easy in comparison to many other industries right now.Still a key issue for the profession will be how it handles such painful decisions, both in terms of treating staff and in communicating its stance to the wider market. The general feeling is that firms have made some progress in recent years and are now more open about needing to make economically-driven job cuts rather than dressing them up in performance terms. But the issue relates far less to whether you call a departure 'redundancy' or 'performance-related' - fundamentally it is about how well you treat your staff. A generous settlement made to staff leaving outside of formal redundancy terms is hardly worse than the 'purity' of honestly making staff redundant on a statutory pay-out. And it has never been that easy to separate the two; there will always be a link between market conditions and individual performance - in bull markets so-so staff are tolerated, in tougher times, they aren't.
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