In an interview for Lawyer2Lawyer I discussed the current trend in law firms to review their business model and their entire operation. They’re taking the opportunity to cut back where appropriate because their revenues are declining … and they are reducing their highest expense — senior lawyers.
Don’t waste a good crisis is the new mantra.
Wilmer Hale, a major law firm, recently announced that they have told a number of lawyers to look for other employment come the Fall. But, they have also done something that I have not heard anyone else do. At the same time they revised the standards to remain with the firm, they also are offering those impacted the opportunity to learn new skills that will give them the chance to meet the new standards.
While some may think their action is age discrimination, I believe it is o.k. to change the law firm model provided you also offer education and training programs to those involved so they can meet the new standards.
For me, a comparative situation might involve a secretary who has been employed by the firm for a long time. The secretary is proficient in dictation. Now, the firm believes that dictation is not the most efficient method to convert a lawyer’s thoughts to paper. So, the firm converts to a new technology, making the secretary’s skills obsolete. Rather than fire the secretary, though, the firm offers the secretary education programs to enable her/him to learn the new technology. If the secretary fails or refuses to learn and utilize the new technology, I believe there is no requirement to retain the secretary on staff.
Thus, with lawyers. Many were made partners because they had large billable hours, because they were good "minders" of clients despite the fact that they were not "finders" or rainmakers. Today, rainmaking has become a significant attribute that is important for partners to have. Those who don’t become expendable.
While painful for many, I do believe it is not inappropriate for the firm to ask this of its lawyers.