Ballard Spahr Andrews & Ingersoll has laid off a number of secretarial and administrative staff personnel this week, making for the second round of staff cuts at the firm since the summer.
Ballard Spahr’s decision is the latest, as Philadelphia firms have shed dozens of support staff and lawyers since late December, as effects of the faltering economy continue to be felt well beyond the country’s largest markets.
Several people in the local legal community pointed to a significant number of staff cuts at Ballard Spahr with at least one report pointing to attorneys being affected as well, mainly in the firm’s Los Angeles office. Several sources put the number of secretary layoffs between 40 and 65 with the higher number including attorneys. Many also said administrative staff were included along with secretaries.
A call to the firm’s chairman, Arthur Makadon, was returned by firm Chief Marketing Officer Eileen Kenney, who would not comment on the number of layoffs or whether attorneys were affected. She would only offer a statement on behalf of the firm.
“The firm has reduced its support staff in several offices. Like many law firms, we are not immune to the effects of the economy’s downturn. We regret taking this action, but by doing so we will achieve a responsible balance between staff size and the anticipated needs of our clients and lawyers,” the firm said in the statement.
The firm did later comment beyond the statement to emphasize that the cuts only included support staff.
Ballard Spahr had let go of 13 support staff around June, at which point Makadon said the moves were economically driven.
One former Ballard Spahr partner, who wished not to be named, said the firm missed its budget for 2008. The partner also heard from several people that layoffs had occurred Wednesday at the firm.
Another source familiar with the firm said there were “several” layoffs Wednesday of what the source thought were mainly secretaries in order to get the firm in line with a more efficient secretary-to-attorney ratio. The source heard two conflicting reports as to whether associates were affected by the layoffs.
Ballard Spahr certainly isn’t the only firm trimming its payroll.
A Saul Ewing spokeswoman confirmed that the firm laid off 12 administrative staff members earlier this month across four offices. She said the cuts made up about 4 percent of the firm’s 287 support staff and no attorneys were affected. The reduction was driven by the economy and had nothing to do with performance, she said, adding that the goal was really to eliminate redundancies within the firm.
The spokeswoman said she couldn’t comment on specific people who were let go.
Stradley Ronon Stevens & Young let go of two associates and three staff members in December because of economic factors, a spokesman confirmed.
Layoffs in the Pennsylvania market have been largely limited to secretaries and other support staff. Consultants have pointed to attorney layoffs as the real money saver for firms when compared to the effect staff cuts have on the bottom line. They have also predicted a continuation of attorney layoffs by firms that wanted to wait until after the holidays to break the news.
Most Pennsylvania firms were able to avoid associate layoffs through much of 2008, focusing instead on staff headcount, while firms in larger markets made attorney cuts months ago. That tactic has started to change in the Keystone State, however, with an increasing number of local firms parting ways with attorneys.
Local Layoff Breakdown
• Dechert gave 13 associates lay off notices last March and moved other associates to different practice groups. It ultimately gave those 13 finance and real estate attorneys temporary assignments in other practices and had adamantly denied that any other attorney cuts, other than for performance issues, had occurred since that time. In mid-December, the firm announced it laid off 72 administrative staff in its U.S. offices, which accounted for about 12.6 percent of the firm’s 570 U.S. support staff members.
• Reed Smith laid off 50 legal secretaries in April 2008 in order to be more in line with a three-to-one attorney-to-secretary ratio. At the same time, it had hired some new employees to staff a 24-hour client business center. In December, Reed Smith made the largest raw-number staff cut of any local firm, laying off 115 administrative staff in the United States and potentially another seven staff and 11 associates in its U.K. offices.
• Wolf Block let go of a total of 15 support staff and associates in December, though the firm wouldn’t confirm the breakdown of each group.
• Drinker Biddle & Reath was reported to have let go of a little fewer than 20 corporate associates last month, but the firm said it has a policy of not commenting on personnel matters.
• Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney cut 25 administrative staff across all of its offices in November because of the economy, though the firm said it didn’t expect attorneys to be affected.
• Duane Morris cut seven people from its marketing team in August and an additional 15 administrative positions — mainly in the Philadelphia office — from other departments the same week.
• Blank Rome saw the departure of nine associates in mid-2008 after the firm’s annual review period. •