Archer & Greiner, after growing aggressively through mergers over the past three years, is in retrenchment mode.

The 209-lawyer firm gave pink slips on March 4 to 14 attorneys and 27 staffers, who have until April 1 to clear out their desks.

The lawyers let go include seven associates and seven nonequity partners, spread among the firm’s Haddonfield, Hackensack, Flemington, Princeton and Philadelphia offices.

The 19 secretaries and file clerks and eight paralegals also losing their jobs are mostly in the Haddonfield office. 

Archer & Greiner’s president, Christopher Gibson, says the layoffs were prompted by a need to scale down overhead following a period of rapid expansion.

The firm, which had 150 lawyers in 2008, crested over 200 with the acquisitions of 21-lawyer Pelino & Lentz in the Philadelphia office and 31-lawyer Herten, Burstein, Sheridan, Cevasco, Bottinelli, Litt & Harz in Hackensack.

The mergers gave the firm a broader footprint, especially in the northern part of the state, but they also overstaffed in certain practice areas. That makes it difficult for some lawyers to amass enough billable hours to be productive, especially at a time when corporate clients are resistant to having cases staffed by junior attorneys. 

Calling the layoffs “the most difficult thing I have done,” Gibson said they  were necessary because of a changing and sluggish legal market. “We couldn’t raise our rates,” he says. “What we had to do was do more with less.”

He says the firm examined the number of hours each lawyer was billing, and identified layoffs based on areas where overcapacity or redundancy was found. 

Two partners in commercial litigation and one each in general litigation, intellectual property, corporate law, real estate and trusts and estates were let go.

The dismissed associates practiced in general litigation, personal injury, commercial litigation, corporate law, real estate and trusts and estates.

Support staff reductions will mean more lawyers sharing help. With the cuts, the ratio of secretaries to lawyers increases from 2:1 to 4:1, which Gibson says is comparable to competing firms.

Gibson won’t say how much the firm will save by the reductions in staff. In 2011, the firm posted revenues of $87.1 million and showed profits of $27.5 million, for a 31.6 percent profit margin. 

The gross income figure was based on 203 lawyers with revenue per lawyer of $429,000. Six more lawyers have been added since then, but the 14 layoffs will bring the number down to 195. By a conservative estimate, that could reduce revenue by about $7 million, while the staff cuts could save the firm $3 million or more. 

A source familiar with the firm, who spoke on condition of anonymity, says the housecleaning might have been done sooner after the acquisitions of Pelino & Lentz and Herten Burstein but Archer & Greiner wanted to give the acquired lawyers a chance to prove their potential. 

Gibson says Archer & Greiner hopes to continue growing through acquisition of lateral partners and practice groups.

David Garber, president of Princeton Legal Search Group, which counts Archer & Greiner as a client, says the firm will have some explaining to do.

“For a firm that has announced layoffs, any lateral candidate will question why. That is something the firm will have to address head-on,” he says.