With millions of Americans suddenly unemployed and law firms of all sizes cutting jobs and compensation, it was only a matter of time until the legal industry began to make disclosures to authorities.
Two New York law firms filed job-cutting notices last week, according to a list maintained by the state’s labor department. They are Scahill Law Group, an insurance defense firm on Long Island that reported 50 furloughs, and the Law Offices of Joseph A. Romano, a personal injury, disability and workers’ compensation firm in New York City that reported a “temporary plant closure” impacting 12 people.
Like many of the hundred-plus restaurants, hotels and other businesses that have filed notices under the state’s Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act, or WARN Act, the two firms said they cut head count because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Frank Scahill, the managing partner at Scahill Law, said in an interview Monday that the near-total shutdown of New York’s state courts for civil litigation has left many of his support staff with not enough work. While his 55 or so lawyers have been able to do depositions, mediations and arbitrations via Zoom video conferencing software, they don’t need as much support from paralegals and secretaries, so about half the staff have been furloughed and can claim unemployment, Scahill said.
The state court’s electronic filing system, NYSCEF, is not accepting filings in most cases now. While about a quarter of his firm’s work takes place in federal courts, which are still accepting electronic filings, he said the limitations on state’s NYSCEF system—where filings would be reviewed by clerks for compliance with court rules, unlike the federal PACER system—has put a major crimp on litigation activity.
“Even if the courts can open up NYSCEF again, that would [go] a long way,” he said. “It’s our intention to bring back the people that were furloughed.”
Romano didn’t return calls or emails.
Compensation cuts, layoffs, furloughs and other belt-tightening measures have been reported at firms in the Am Law 100, including Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft and Baker Donelson; Am Law 200 firms, such as Loeb & Loeb and Goldberg Segalla; and several other midsize and small firms, including Cullen and Dykman on Long Island.