Earlier this week, we reported on a wave of stealth layoffs that took place at Cooley, a top 20 Biglaw firm that brought in $1,986,777,000 gross revenue in 2021. For its part, the firm couched its corporate layoffs in terms of performance, but new information has come to light that makes the firm’s claims even more questionable.
According to sources that spoke to the American Lawyer, these layoffs weren’t based on poor performance — far from it. Here are more details:
While the firm characterized the layoffs as part of an annual midyear associate performance review process, a former Cooley associate who quit the firm during the layoffs disputed the firm’s justification. Three recruiters who have recently worked with Cooley associates confirmed that not all cuts were tied to performance issues, adding that some lawyers’ declining billables served as their only notice.
Rather, the associate said, falling demand in the firm’s venture capital and capital markets practices saw some associates billing under 40 hours per month by summer’s end, a problem magnified by Cooley’s zealous hiring in those practices last year.
As Biglaw firms know all too well by now, venture capital and capital markets practices have been severely affected by the economic downturn, and now associates are paying the price with their jobs. The anonymous associate who spoke to Am Law continued, stating, “They did lay people off, but not following a performance review. We had our performance reviews in January and February and no one was laid off. Everyone made it through the performance review and got bonuses as expected.”
Back in September, however, after things had just started to go south, the firm was said to have implemented an associate hiring freeze, but denied the official existence of such a program at the time. In light of the layoffs that have struck at the firm, the associate said of their former colleagues, “In the spring of 2022, I would not have thought the people who were going to get laid off had performance issues—they were billing high hours.”
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Cooley’s ‘Performance-Based’ Layoffs Also Hit High-Achievers [American Lawyer]
Staci Zaretsky is a senior editor at Above the Law, where she’s worked since 2011. She’d love to hear from you, so please feel free to email her with any tips, questions, comments, or critiques. You can follow her on Twitter or connect with her on LinkedIn.