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Involuntary Departures From Law Firms on the Rise

Whether by layoff or outright termination, there's a bunch of stories in this week's news on lawyers' involuntary departures from law firms. As reported by

Above the Law, California-based Thelen Reid laid off 26 associates and 85 staff members "in response to recessionary pressures." Cuts affected lawyers at varying levels of seniority at all major offices and most practice areas.

And with the recent collapse of Bear Stearns, law firm layoffs are predicted to continue according to The New York Sun. According the article, many law firms, including Goodwin Proctor, WilmerHale and Reed Smith, have seen declines in M&A, IPO and property finance work. And while these firms do not have layoffs planned, the current "turmoil in financial markets" is "creating a fear factor" among lawyers over job security, Danice Kowalczyk, a managing director at BCG Attorney Search, told the Sun.

Perhaps the only upside of the poor economy to law firms is that generally, pink-slipped lawyers don't challenge their layoffs. Most law firms try to help laid off lawyers with job placement and severance, and filing a lawsuit would place those benefits in jeopardy. By contrast, when firms terminate or demote lawyers for noneconomic reasons, spurned associates have nothing to lose; indeed, most lawyers no longer worry about negative lawsuit publicity.

Up in Boston, a female associate, Kamee Verdrager, filed a discrimination complaint at the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination against her law firm, Mintz Levin.  Verdrager claims that the firm demoted her because of gender and retaliated against her when she complained about a male colleague's behavior. Among other things, Verdrager says that the firm asked her to take a reduced salary and schedule both after she told the firm that she was getting married and, again, after she notified them of her pregnancy.   Not surprisingly, the firm denied Verdrager's charges, alleging that her demotion resulted from subpar performance.  The firm justified its actions citing Verdrager's excessive time on assignments and inadequate work that necessitated fee write-offs.  The firm also claimed that Verdrager's poor performance reflected badly on the firm and made clients reluctant to work with her.

There's another suit against a law firm in New York, this one by Caroline Memnon, a former associate in the New York office of Clifford Chance, according to the New York Sun, via Above the Law. Memnon, who is suing for $75 million, claims that the firm used her as "window dressing" because of her race, fired her in retaliation for complaining about it and, finally, prevented her from securing other employment by "blacklisting her" in the legal community.  David Lat expresses some doubts about the merits, given that Memnon had previously been terminated from Sullivan and Worcester after just two months. 

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on March 21, 2008 at 05:07 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)


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