This Week in Layoffs – 8/14/09

by lawshucks on August 15, 2009

Pic: U. Chicago

Pic: U. Chicago


We’ve come so close recently, but we can finally call it.

For the first time this year, we have gone an entire week without a layoff reported at any major law firm.

Analysis, including charts, after the jump.

By popular demand, we’ll first address the broader US economy, where the news isn’t quite as good. Initial jobless claims rose unexpectedly, to 558,000, last week. Curiously, what seems like good news might not be: the total number of unemployed dropped to the lowest level since April. Once again, that’s more likely the result of people no longer qualifying as “unemployed” under the BLS definition. In the worst case, people whose right to receive benefits has expired (i.e., they’ve been unemployed for more than 12-18 months) don’t count. There is also a substantial contingent of disaffected workers, those who have simply given up searching, who also don’t count.

Perhaps the better indicator of BigLaw’s clients’ health is the S&P 500, which was relatively flat for the week and held at the psychologically important 1,000 level.

In case you missed it, last month we did an extensive analysis of law firm layoffs for the year to date. Consider that a primer for the larger trends. We’ll focus on the weekly activities this week (and in case you didn’t know, we have a single landing page for all of the “This Week in Layoffs” posts and the broader “The Month in Layoffs” on Law Shucks if you want to find any of the historical posts).

First, a chart of the totals for each week this year.


This chart illustrates an interesting trend: layoffs have tended to spike around the 10th of each month. Since March, the first or second week of each month has had the most layoffs for that month (until this month).

Couple that with the tendency of law firm layoffs to occur on Thursdays more than any other day, and we strongly suggest you call in sick on September 10 (although Labor Day is late this year, so don’t show up on September 17, either).

Next, the five worst weeks for law firm layoffs this year:


Things have certainly slowed down of late. The last month that had 799 layoffs (as many as the fifth-worst week) was May. June barely broke 500 and July barely broke 600.

As we’ve said repeatedly, though, the summer is likely a slow time for law-firm layoffs due to factors other than economic conditions. Partners are on vacation, summer associates are patrolling the halls looking for work, and the class of 2009 offerees have been studying for the bar.

Put another way: there was no one around to make the decision; no one wanted to emotionally scar next year’s crop of fresh blood; and common decency says wait until the incoming wave is through the stress of the bar.

All of those buffers go away in the coming weeks. Firms are already canceling summer programs and OCI left and right, salaries are being cut back, and start dates are still being deferred. We expect the layoffs will pick up again towards the middle of September.

It’s not even like we’re really going out on a limb with that prediction: we already know one firm has been talking to a layoff consultant.

The Numbers

Layoff this week: ZERO!

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