Clifford Chance's announcement yesterday that it was making 20 lawyers redundant in New York and Washington DC is not the first time lawyers in the US have faced the chop this year (see story).
It's not even the first time that Clifford Chance lawyers have been made redundant; the firm laid off six structured finance lawyers back in November last year.
What has taken the New York market by surprise, however, is the fact that all 20 lawyers were litigators. Litigators being laid off in a downturn? Can this be true?
CC litigation head Mark Kirsch has been candid about the fact that none of these layoffs is for performance reasons - echoing Greg Markel of Cadwalader, who in The Lawyer Podcast in September argued that firms should be straightforward about layoffs in order not to damage lawyers' future employment chances. (Listen)
The Clifford Chance redundancies have the shadow of Merrill Lynch hanging over them. When Clifford Chance merged with Rogers & Wells in 2000, R&W was billing over GBP9m to Merrill alone, and virtually all of that was in securities litigation. With Merriill now subsumed into Bank of America, that workflow looks a lot more uncertain.
The news also underlines the point that litigation cannot compensate for a slump in M&A and private equity deals. Even when - as our survey this week showed - magic circle partners are now routinely billing GBP750 per hour (see story). Even those rates can't save jobs when the work isn't there.