Hogan & Hartson is the latest firm looking to trim its legal staff, but it hasn’t enacted layoffs.
Instead, the Washington-based firm offered buyouts on Monday to about 240 of its legal secretaries and word processors. Staff and associate layoffs have become commonplace at law firms in the past six months, but Hogan & Hartson is among the first to encourage staffers to leave voluntarily.
“In the end, I think people are going to feel pretty good that the firm gave people a choice,” said Hogan & Hartson Chairman J. Warren Gorrell Jr. The buyout offer has been extended to secretaries and word processors who have been with the firm for at least five years. Those who choose to accept the buyout will receive four weeks of pay, plus an additional week of pay for every year they spent with the firm. The buyout offer is more lucrative for longtime secretaries, who generally make more money than recent hires.
For example, a secretary with 20 years at the firm would receive nearly half of his or her annual pay.
Gorrell said the firm is hopeful that the buyout offer will eliminate the excess in its staff head count, but he said there is no specific goal for the number of departures. In fact, firm leaders hope that not too many of those eligible for the buyout will take it, he said.
Gorrell said that the buyout offer is not a sign of financial problems for the firm, nor is it an omen of future layoffs. Rather, the buyouts are a byproduct of overcapacity in the secretarial ranks and improving technology. “Clearly, we are impacted by the downturn in the economy and softening demand from clients,” he said. “That undoubtedly is a factor. But we also have technology that has replaced some of the need for secretaries. We just don’t require the same level of secretarial support and word processing as we used to.”
Gorrell said the firm would need to reduce secretarial staff even if without the recession. He said the buyout offer has been made to secretaries in all but a handful of the firm’s U.S. offices.