The news that Cadwalader Wickersham & Taft is laying off an unprecedented number of lawyers – 96 – has left lawyers across Manhattan shell-shocked.
Any lingering hopes that the worst effects of the credit crunch had passed for law firms were neatly skewered by Cadwalader’s announcement yesterday (Wednesday 30 July).
The firm’s most recent “right-sizing” project – a phrase famously employed years ago with some controversy by former chairman Bob Link (remember him?) to describe earlier Cadwalader cuts – serves to emphasise the extent to which one of its core product lines has now shrivelled.
But after the shock died down yesterday, the question on many lawyers’ lips was “what took them so long?” In one case this was shortly followed by “how many partners are also about to be asked to leave?”
With a leverage ratio of around 8.5:1, at a rough estimate Cadwalader has at least 10 partners sitting around its network with very little to do. And what of that network? Unlike Cadwalader’s first round of redundancies in January, this time its London office is squarely in chairman Chris White’s sights. Around 10 per cent of the 96 redundancies are in London.
Frankly, it’s not before time. In one of our bulletins last week we highlighted the lowly London revenue growth of another US firm – Dechert – a fact thrown up by the research The Lawyer is currently undertaking for its annual report on the revenues of the leading firms opening in the UK.
The figures that will be posted for Cadwalader when The Lawyer UK 200 Annual Report is published this September are worse.
Since 2002, revenue in Cadwalader’s London office has grown just 8 per cent. In the context of the top 30 US firms in the City, Cadwalader’s revenue growth is the second worst after Jones Day.
Laying off 96 lawyers is unlikely to help with its growth plans very much.
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