Goodbye To All That

A couple of interesting stories / analyses turned up in our inbox this morning talking about the fundamental shift professional industries and lawyers especially are facing this year.

We warn you; both articles aren’t going to engender confidence for those of you now out of work or those about to be out of work.

Jordan Furlong of Law 21 and the Wall St Journal are both saying the same things. The jobs have gone and are pretty unlikely to come back.

The Wall St Journal writes:

Laid-Off Lawyers and Other Professionals

With all the concern about America’s manufacturing sector losing jobs, it is easy to miss that the newest phenomenon is the wholesale loss of professional jobs, the very jobs that fueled America’s economic resurgence and political realignment over the last decade.

America has been losing manufacturing jobs for decades. The rest of the world has, too, including China, mostly because automation has made manufacturing more efficient. In the meantime, we have had huge growth in America’s professional class: engineers, software writers, lawyers, doctors — even licensed massage therapists.

Most Americans (64%) now classify themselves not as blue- or white-collar workers but as professionals. And so as this recession hit, Detroit is having another round of problems, but so is New York, San Francisco, Seattle and all of the professional capitals of America.

For the first time, even lawyers are facing wholesale layoffs. Big firms like DLA Piper have had to let go of 150 lawyers at a time, and this is rippling through the industry. In February alone, Goodwin Procter, Holland & Knight, Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman, and Latham & Watkins have laid off about 325 lawyers, in some cases cutting almost 8% of their attorneys.

And Jordan Furlong author of blog Law 21 writes:

This is not a drill

I’ve experienced it, and maybe you have, too. In mid-flight, the seat-belt light comes on and the pilot announces that the airplane is entering an area of turbulence. Shortly afterward, various shakes and jolts start bumping you around, and while it can be unnerving, you knew it was coming and you’re not too concerned. Then, with no warning comes a WHAM, a sickening two- or three-second drop, as a particularly powerful air pocket rocks the plane. There’s a lurch in your stomach and you think for an instant: this could be really bad.

Yesterday, at least 800 jobs disappeared from law firms in the US and the UK — there may well have been more, because rumours of “stealth” or “performance” layoffs have been circulating for awhile. White & Case accounted for half those firings, divided equally between lawyers and staff — but remarkably, the firm also talked openly about a partnership cull too,  something I suggested last week was imminent. In addition, Morgan Lewis not only joined the layoff parade, but also postponed the start date for its incoming lawyers by one year, meaning the firm will have no first-year lawyer class in 2009.

These are just the most notable developments in one day from the largest firms — the mainstream legal media isn’t looking at what’s happening to small, mid-size and regional firms. But the lurch I talked about isn’t just from these numbers, or even from the thousands of layoffs that preceded them: it’s from a couple of hard realities hitting home. One, job losses in the legal profession are just getting started — this thing is picking up speed and no one knows where or how it will end. And two, “this thing” is a lot more than a recession.