Friday the 13th

Friday the 13thToday is Friday the 13th. But yesterday was the date that was truly unlucky for some.

In a few hours on Thursday afternoon, one US firm after another lined up to announce layoffs. DLA Piper cut 180, including 80 lawyers (see story). Goodwin Procter laid off 38 lawyers and a total of 74 positions (see story). Dechert cut 19 lawyers’ jobs (see story) while Bryan Cave cut 58 lawyers from its ranks along with 76 support staff roles (see story).

But that was not the end. Far from it. Holland & Knight made cuts totalling 243 employees, including 70 lawyers.

Faegre & Benson also cut headcount, chopping 29 lawyers from its ranks, as did some lesser known firms including Epstein Becker and Green.

And of course, Cadwalader Wickersham & Taft had already announced its own City-based redundancy consultation (see story). But seeing as that was way back in the morning of what is already being called “Bloody Thursday”, those just seem like a distant memory.

In total, in one dismal day in the US, more than 350 lawyers stood to lose their jobs.

The comments posted by readers of Abovethelaw.com, the US legal website that carried the first word of many of the layoffs, summed up the mood.

“Holy mother of God,” said one. “They are coming on a minute by minute basis.”

For many, the key question was whether there was any reason for the sky falling in? One wag suggested that a group of managing partners had got together and struck a gentlemen’s agreement to make this the day for announcing firm layoffs: “Why? An individual firm won’t take nearly the public relations hit it otherwise might if they were one of only a couple of firms to announce firings within a given week.”

But according to one New York partner, the timing was little more than coincidence.

“Maybe it’s because for US firms it’s still early on in the first quarter, so it’s a natural time to take stock and see what needs to be done for the health of the practice,” he said. “But, you know, there’s really no magic here. This is more likely just the momentum in the marketplace.”

What’s certain is that this number of layoffs and this level of momentum is unprecedented. In previous downturns, such as during the early 1990s or in 2002-03, most of the top firms held the line and resisted major job cuts. Now even major rounds of redundancies are likely to get lost in the shuffle, as another firm comes along five minutes later with its own round.

Then again, next Monday is Presidents’ Day in the US, a holiday. It’s possible firms think that by Tuesday the market will have moved on.

But the reality is that it’s going to take a lot more than one long weekend to forget layoffs on this scale.