South East and London hardest hit as law firm redundancy toll rises to 440

South East and London hardest hit as law firm redundancy toll rises to 440Law firms in the South East and London have laid off more staff than those in any other region in England and Wales, with real estate departments bearing the brunt of the impact.

Exclusive research carried out by The Lawyer shows that 117 people have been made redundant at firms in the South East – more than in any other region.

ASB Law was the worst-hit firm, with 38 losing their jobs following the closure of the firm’s Brighton and ­Horsham offices.

Milton Keynes was also badly hit, with EMW Law, Geoffrey Leaver Solicitors, Kimbells Solicitors, Matthew Arnold & Baldwin and Tollers all having entered into consultations or laying off staff. Meanwhile, up the road in Northampton, Shoosmiths let 23 conveyancers go.

Redundancies in the City, which has been rocked by the drying up of debt capital markets, have struck some of the UK’s largest firms. As reported on last Friday (19 September), Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer has become the first magic circle firm to lay off staff. Up to four associates in the ­London real estate practice lost their jobs, leaving that team with 22 associates and nine partners.

Field Fisher Waterhouse (FFW) cut five real estate fee-earner jobs.

Department head Paul Houston said: “We’ve had to take tough decisions and refocus our practice to respond to the effects of the credit crunch.

“We believe that we’re in a strong position to meet the challenges ahead by ­continuing to invest in our real estate capability – in particular in areas such as property and planning ­litigation.”

Olswang was one of the first firms to make real estate redundancies last ­November (, 16 November 2007). Five fee-earners and five support staff lost their jobs.

Five fee-earners were also made redundant in DLA Piper’s technology, media and commercial division – one of the few practice areas other than real estate
to have laid off staff (, 1 August).

Outside the South East and Greater London, the North East has been the hardest hit. Dickinson Dees was among the first to embark on significant layoffs last year when 17 were made redundant as a result of the demise of client Northern Rock. The remaining 57 job losses there were in the firm’s volume business.

Cobbetts and Eversheds both axed fee-earners in their Leeds real estate departments. One went at Cobbetts, while nine real estate lawyers went from Eversheds’ Leeds office.

A further 24 real estate lawyers have gone from Eversheds’ offices across
the country, but Leeds was the worst affected.

But the firm’s head of real estate Lee Ranson argued that Eversheds cannot be singled out and says the focus should be on how the process is managed.
“I’d struggle to see any law firm that’s immune from a market that’s fallen 50-60 per cent,” he said. “The test for law firms is how you deal with the people that have worked for you and the ­people who are left.”

He told The Lawyer that the firm took a decision to be “completely open and honest” about the departures, while some of those who lost their jobs had been provided with support and advice about future career options, including initiatives such as mock interviews.

The Midlands, the North West and the South West have all experienced fewer than 50 layoffs each. Research indicates that Wales has made just three so far – at Eversheds’ Cardiff office. The bulk of those in the Midlands were at ­Challinors Solicitors, where 38 lost their jobs. Bevan ­Brittan also let five go there.

In the North West it is again real estate that has been the worst hit. Brabners Chaffe Street let eight go. Two were administration staff, four legal executives in plot sales and two ­associates. Cobbetts made three real estate fee-earners redundant, while Pannone let 13 go in the residential department and relocated 15 elsewhere in the business. Halliwells made four support staff redundant.

In the South West Bevan Brittan made the bulk of the redundancies, with 25
layoffs in Bristol, while Beachcroft and TLT Solicitors also shed staff in the city.