Reed Smith Boots 45 Attorneys. More to Come?

By Jonathan R. Tung, Esq. on January 25, 2016 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

If you follow BigLaw at all (3Ls, we're looking at you), you already know of the 45 lawyers laid off by Reed Smith last week. Reed Smith cites belt-tightening and "shifting in the legal landscape" for reasoning behind the shifts.

The question remains: are the Reed Smith layoffs a harbinger of things to come?

This Is Nothing New

Not to sound callous, but a layoff of several dozens of attorneys from one of America's most famed BigLaw firms is hardly anything that should shock anyone -- least of all, attorneys. BigLaw cullings have taken place before, so why should we be convinced that this one is special? Here's a sampling of past BigLaw layoffs for people who enjoy watching slow-motion car crashes.

  • Latham Watkins 2009, 2013: In 2009, during the thick of the 2008 sub-prime mortgage crisis, Latham Watkins sent an eerie memo around its offices declaring that 190 lawyers would get the ax. That was about 12% of its workforce. They also laid off about 250 staff. A few years later they twisted the knife again and told their secretaries to voluntarily hit the bricks, or else.
  • Weil Gotshal, 2013: Another storied BigLaw monolith, Weil Gotshal trimmed about 7 percent of their lawyers (60 associates), tightened belts at the partner level and fired about 110 non-lawyer staff.

45? We've Seen Bigger.

As you can see from above, there's something to be said about the statement, "it could have been a lot worse." 45 is a lot sure, but the number is so small that one could even reasonably argue that there's hardly a BigLaw crisis at all. Just routine cleaning, y'know?

We're not saying that the Reed Smith layoffs are not the start of some short term trend in BigLaw layoffs, but we are saying that these sorts of trends are not unprecedented. Yes, other firms in 2016 also are taking it on the chin. But is this new? Nah. If anything, lawyers should actually learn to expect these sorts of mass extinction events. Meanwhile, there are reasons to believe that 2016 will be a great year in the law.

Trend for BigLaw Is Down -- but Why?

With talk of a market downturn on the lips of professionals in coffeehouses everywhere, things could get a lot worse, for everyone. The casualties at Reed Smith could be the beginning of history repeating itself, or it could be the realities of BigLaw meeting a taste for a new means of getting legal help. Either way, Reed Smith's words about a "shifting legal landscape" could seems ominous to some, or downright shifty to others.

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