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The seemingly inexorable wave of layoffs at many of the nation’s larger firms is reaching smaller firms in vulnerable practice areas. Pircher, Nichols & Meeks, a 75-attorney firm specializing in commercial real estate with offices in Los Angeles and Chicago, is laying off eight attorneys and four staff. Leo J. Pircher, founding member, noted in a statement on Wednesday that “commercial real estate work has declined in the last 6 months and our clients have told us that it is not likely to pick up substantially in 2009.” Pircher praised the laid off attorneys and staff as “fine and competent people,” but “there certainly isn’t enough commercial real estate work to go around.” Layoffs are already occurring at smaller firms but are typically unnoticed in “ones and twos,” said Jon Lindsey, managing partner of the New York office of the legal recruiting consultant firm Major, Lindsey & Africa. “It is not a shocker that a firm concentrated in commercial real estate has to lay off people,” Lindsey said. “Pircher is doing it the way most firms now consider more honorable and honest, to simply say these are good lawyers but there is not enough work.” Small firms are more likely to keep people when work slows down, but this is not an ordinary slowdown, Lindsey said. “Layoffs are tough at a small firm, where the person making the decision knows you, your family, your situation. It is harder to pull the trigger,” Lindsey said. “But this economy hurts everybody. Small firms no longer are getting the work that big firms were sending out a year ago. Big firms are cutting rates and trying to compete. Smaller firms have lower billing rates and can compete on price. It is the way of the world.” The layoffs were first reported on Wednesday by Above The Law.

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