It seemed innocuous enough. On January 10, 2008, Cadwalader Wickersham & Taft announced that it was laying off 35 associates from the firm’s capital markets and global finance practices in New York and Charlotte. At the time, Greg Markel (Columbia BA ’67, Michigan MBA ’68, Yale JD ’72),a litigator and member of the firm’s management committee was “confident there would be no more layoffs in the future.”
Boy was he wrong. The firm went on to lay off 121 more attorneys in three waves.
More importantly, that was the real jumping off point for major firm layoffs. Thacher Proffitt was already trying to buy people out as it started its sink to oblivion, and Clifford Chance and other firms with heavy securitization practices were rumored to have had layoffs, but Cadwalader was the first to confirm publicly that it had fired people.
It took 15 months, but the market has crossed the ignominious 10,000 person mark.
Lots of charts and analysis after the jump.
After Cadwalader’s layoff, it was over a month until the next announcement from Dechert on February 29, then on March 1 it was confirmed that Clifford Chance, Thacher Proffitt, and Thelen were laying people off. And the stealth layoff rumors were already starting around firms like Paul Hastings.
There were sporadic layoffs through the second and third quarters of 2008, but it was in the fourth quarter that the layoffs really began in earnest. In each of November and December, just under 500 people were laid off.
1,540 people were laid off in January – almost as many as had been laid off in the entire preceding year (1,761). The pace was alarming, but few realized it would accelerate.
February was worse – jumping to 2,708 for the month.
Then came March. Pretty much every record was shattered in March. Layoffs in a month, layoffs of lawyers, layoffs of staff, layoffs in a day, in a week, and so on. Most of the damage was done in the first two weeks, but by the end of the month, 3,677 people were fired by major law firms.
There’s a running tally of the past twelve months on the tracker, but here it is expanded for the 16 months we’ve been tracking.
And here’s the running tally. Due to late announcements, we’re just now able to confirm that the 10,000 person mark has been passed. It took all the way until October for 1,000 total people to be laid off. The 1,000th staffer was laid off in December, and a month later, the 1,000th lawyer. The 5,000 total mark was broken in early February, and the 5,000th staffer in March.
Staffers are still being hit harder than fee-earners at a rate of 3:2:
Thursday is by far the worst day. About 36% of all layoffs have come on that day. The Saturday and Sunday numbers are typically for layoffs that were announced as of the end of a month or during a month with no specific day.
Unfortunately, we expect it won’t be long before it’s 10,000 just for the year. We’re already at 8,530 so far (3,321 lawyers, 5,209 staff) in calendar 2009. Follow us on Twitter (@lawshucks) for (fairly) real-time updates to the tracker.