Silicon Valley firm Fenwick & West has laid off nearly 50 lawyers and become the second firm in as many weeks to make major culls.
It has cut 32 associates and 15 paralegals from its ranks because of the falloff in technology-related corporate work. At the same time, high-profile Valley firm Venture Law Group (VLG) put its new intake of first-year lawyers on hold until next year. Thirteen associates due to start at the firm in the next few weeks have been told to put off their arrival until January. The cuts represent a tenth of Fenwick's workforce - the firm is one of the 10 largest firms in the Valley, boasting 300 lawyers before the cuts, excluding paralegals. The layoffs follow similar staff reductions at rival Cooley Godward (The Lawyer, 3 September). It laid off 86 associates and 50 other staff, which represented nearly 20 per cent of its lawyer count. After that a raft of local firms rushed to reassure their associates that redundancies were not planned, including Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati, Brobeck Phleger & Harrison and Orrick. Fenwick was conspicuous by its absence. The 32 associates who lost their jobs come mainly from the corporate group, although intellectual property and litigation lawyers were also asked to leave. The tax and patent departments were untouched. VLG has employed a unique strategy of advising only start-up companies and then referring them to San Francisco's Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe when they grow. In June, 110-lawyer VLG laid off more than 20 staff and changed its strategy, saying that it would carry on working for larger companies and stop referring corporate work to Orrick. Putting its new lawyers on hold is the latest sign of its struggle with the corporate downturn. Because it focuses so heavily on corporate work for new companies, it has been one of the hardest hit.