It’s hard to work at Biglaw for any length of time and *not* feel like a cog in a machine. Firms don’t have widgets to sell to clients, they have the hours associates and partners put in to make their money. So, humanity aside, in a very real way, you are the product being sold.
Last year, there was a run on cogs — that is, associates — when there weren’t enough bodies to staff all the deals clients wanted to do. But that was 2021, and in 2022, the corporate market is down. So a bunch of big firms that snatched up all those useful cogs last year now want to unload them on the market. Hence the dreaded stealth layoffs that a number of firms have engaged in this year.
Losing your job — and feeling like you’re to blame for the firm’s economic decision — is rough. But, as reported by Bloomberg Law, there may be opportunities for those associates who suddenly find themselves out of work, as they describe the unique market conditions in “Big Law Layoffs Mean Buyer’s Market for Firms Raided During Boom.”
There’s great information in the piece that should give hope to attorneys who suddenly find themselves out of work.
“This is the moment for us to be opportunistic and go grab some talent that either got poached from us or we couldn’t afford in the last few years,” said Husch Blackwell chair Catherine Hanaway.
Irwin Kishner, executive chairman of the New York-based Herrick Feinstein, said the firm fought last year to preserve its talent base. The changing conditions present a chance to compete not only for top associate talent, but also partners, he said.
“It’s just going to be a greater talent pool now to be able to decide who you’re gonna bring in and who you’re not,” Kishner said.
And that’s a key difference between the layoffs that shook the legal industry in 2009 and the ones we’re currently experiencing. In 09, the layoffs were much wider spread, were not limited to particular practice areas, and coincided with a much larger economic downturn. And importantly, the frenzy of lateral moves that characterized 2021’s legal market helped to create a class of waiting employers eager to scoop up the unemployed in 2022.
So, yes, it might *feel* like your career is cold product getting offloaded to a buyer anxious for a bargain, but it could be a lot worse. Just ask the law school class of 2009.
Kathryn Rubino is a Senior Editor at Above the Law, host of The Jabot podcast, and co-host of Thinking Like A Lawyer. AtL tipsters are the best, so please connect with her. Feel free to email her with any tips, questions, or comments and follow her on Twitter (@Kathryn1).