At the time of writing, the number of redundancies in private practice has risen to 569. In just the past week lawyers and support staff from Halliwells, Ward Hadaway, LG and Finers Stephens Innocent have all joined that unfortunate band. If you want to check the current tally then visit TheLawyer.com, where we’re updating the situation on a daily basis.
This is unprecedented. It wasn’t like this in 2001-02, nor in the awful years of 1991-93. It’s clear that today’s firms are preferring to make their cuts early in the cycle; better to take the decision now than let things drift would seem to be the logic.
Not that this is any consolation for those who have been made redundant. At least these firms have been relatively transparent about the process, which is also unprecedented. Yet there are others – mostly larger City firms, and we all know who you are – that think doing covert headcount reduction under the guise of performance management reviews is preferable. It isn’t; it’s cowardly, and it’s not fair on the careers of the people affected.
Certainly, a good number of mediocre lawyers did well out of the boom.
We’ve all met unimpressive associates who were in the right place at the right time, although that applies even more so to certain unimpressive millionaire partners. Call me sentimental, but it’s pretty crass now to be telling associates they’re not up to scratch when the real reason they’re not being kept on is there isn’t enough work.
Meanwhile, there’s another problem that’s been highlighted by the credit crunch, and which makes this year’s redundancies different from those in the last couple of downturns.
The lawyers losing their jobs this time around are almost all in structured finance and real estate. They’re over-specialised because their firms needed them to be; it’s a shame that all that expensive training has led to so many lawyers with seemingly untransferable skills.
It would be a wonderful thing if firms were able to take a leaf out of Slaughter and May’s book and embrace the concept of the versatile generalist. But somehow I don’t think that’s likely.