Duane Morris, an international law firm with Philadelphia roots, has cut about 18% of its marketing and business development staff, making staff reductions that echo moves at other firms in recent months.

The firm, which has about 650 attorneys, now has a marketing and business development team of 30 to 35 people, after eliminating seven managers and staff and hiring three more senior executives in the past few months, said Ed Schechter, the firm’s chief marketing officer.

Most of the eliminated jobs were in Philadelphia, where the bulk of the department’s staff is based, but some were in other offices, including Chicago.

The move by Duane Morris follows administrative staff cuts at New York-based Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson this month and the elimination of 13 support staffers at Philadelphia-based Ballard Spahr Andrews & Ingersoll and 50 legal secretaries at Reed Smith earlier this year.

Some firms, including New York’s Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft, have also pared lawyers. Among the reasons for making the reductions is to reduce costs at a time when law firms are feeling the pinch of the weakening U.S. economy.

At Duane Morris, cost-cutting was a “secondary” consideration, with the firm primarily interested in building up a more experienced and leaner team, Schechter said in an interview.

More with less

To that end, the firm has a new marketing director, Susan Shallcross, joining the firm next month from Washington-based Arnold & Porter, where she worked for nearly 12 years as marketing and communications director. Duane Morris also has hired a senior business development manager to oversee all activities in that area and a marketing manager with 15 years’ experience during the past few months, he said.

John Soroko, who became chairman this year, said in an interview that he thought the firm could do the same level of marketing and business development work with fewer people, particularly because of the addition of more senior people recently.

“It’s a restructuring of the department,” said Schechter, who added that Soroko isn’t trying to change the department’s existing role. The creation of a client-relations management system in recent years has allowed for the trimming the staff, he said. Schechter doesn’t expect additional cuts, he said.

“Now that our systems are in place and being utilized every day by our lawyers, we’re able to respond quickly and effectively and to do it with a leaner organization,” Schechter said.

The department was built up under Sheldon Bonovitz, who led the firm for 10 years until January. Spending on the marketing and business development functions will continue to amount to about 2.5% of the firm’s annual revenue, Schechter said. Bonovitz said in an interview that the staff reductions had nothing to do with the change in leadership.

While the firm has kept most of the department’s work in-house in the past, it expects to outsource more marketing and related functions in the future, especially for special projects, Schechter said. For instance, some graphics or public relations work may be handled by outside contractors, he said.

“All firms are looking to tighten their belts wherever they can,” said Ross Fishman, a marketing consultant in suburban Chicago. “Marketing is an interesting area in a recession: do you cut marketing as part of administration or do you invest more heavily in marketing.” Fishman said he had been seeing more law firms let jobs in the marketing area slip away through attrition as opposed to through outright cuts. Still, he said his work has increased and that he encourages firms to consider the downturn as an opportunity to increase marketing while rivals are scaling back.