Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney has undergone a firmwide staff cut this week that it attributes to the economy. At the same time, it is wrapping up its annual review period, at which point the attorney headcount will likely be lower because of performance issues, not economic reasons, the firm’s executive director, Nolan Kurtz, said Thursday.

Kurtz confirmed that Buchanan Ingersoll did “eliminate a number of administrative positions” firmwide. He placed the number at between 25 and 30 positions and said the cuts were made Wednesday.

Buchanan Ingersoll cut 25 administrative positions across the firm in November.

Kurtz said the latest cuts were based on the economy and not performance. The current economy made it all the more important to review staffing levels, he said.

In response to rumors that the firm had plans to lay off a certain number of attorneys by the end of March, Kurtz said the talk probably stemmed from the firm’s annual review process, which is set to conclude in a few weeks.

He said the process starts shortly before the firm’s fiscal-year end of Jan. 31 and goes into March. It is common, he said, for the firm to have a lower headcount after this process.

“We’re coming off of the annual performance review process and, given the overall economic climate, we believe that it’s more important than ever to ensure that we have the right staffing,” Kurtz said, adding that any cuts would be based on performance metrics like workload, pro bono commitment and other criteria.

He said there was no directive to cut any set number of attorneys by a certain date.

Buchanan Ingersoll has seen a number of high-level departures since 2007 and has said it wouldn’t jump to fill those spots simply to increase attorney headcount.

The firm recently saw the departure of two corporate, finance and technology partners out of the Harrisburg office. Shareholders Brad Gunnison and Mike Hund recently joined the Harrisburg office of McNees Wallace & Nurick as members.

Robert F. Zielinski, a former partner and co-chairman of Wolf Block’s intellectual property and information technology practice, had joined Buchanan Ingersoll in May along with Wolf Block associate Brian Belles. The two recently left the firm to each start their own practices. Zielinski, who said he and Belles are serving as counsel to each other’s firms and may eventually work together, left because of a large client conflict and an interest in charging lower rates. He said the overhead at the larger firms was getting to be more than he could justify passing along to clients. Zielinski concentrates his practice in the areas of patent prosecution, trademark and copyright matters as well as information technology.

Staff Cuts

The news of Buchanan Ingersoll’s staff cuts comes a week after what is being dubbed “Black Thursday,” when a number of firms across the country laid off staff and attorneys, shedding collectively several hundred jobs.

Locally, Dechert cut 19 associates and counsel last week and Cozen O’Connor cut 61 staff members, including some paralegals. DLA Piper cut 80 attorneys and 100 staffers across the United States. Three associates and three staff members were out of the Philadelphia office.

Wolf Block confirmed that same day that it cut associate salaries by 10 percent, effective in the 2009 fiscal year. It also said the bonus pool was increased in order to move the firm toward a more performance-based compensation system.With many firms finishing out their fiscal years at the end of January and performance reviews ongoing in the next few months, consultants have said they don’t expect layoffs to be over. •