Law \ Legal

Layoffs Instead Of Special Bonuses? Biglaw Firms Strike Fear Of Unemployment Into Associates’ Hearts

lawyer briefcase shield fear scared frightenedEarlier this week, we provided special coverage of what we believe was the first firm to hand out special bonuses to associates this summer. Littler, an Am Law 100 firm, handed out special bonuses that averaged $10,000 to eligible associates who were on a 2,100-hour pace at the end of June. It’s been about a full business week since we publicized those special bonuses, and to our knowledge, not a single other firm has matched or even hinted at handing out special bonuses to associates.

A source at a top Am Law firm reached out to us to let us know why they think this could be. “Firms continue to crush associates,” our tipster said. “They want us to feel ‘grateful.’” And what should associates be grateful for? That they’re still employed at the firm, of course. Our informant thinks that Biglaw partners are socking away cash without sharing the wealth and instilling fear of layoffs in associates. “I see too many colleagues suffering and struggling under the merciless hands of greedy partners in the Biglaw setting,” they said.

Things are getting bad in Biglaw. I am a midlevel associate at an Am Law 20 firm and all I see are partners using the economy as an excuse to drive fear into all of us — just so they can extract every last ounce of flesh (dignity, health, outlook) from associates.

The partners are using media highlight reels of a pending recession, inflation, and layoffs to make us work harder than ever before, and that’s saying A LOT after what they had us do in 2021. My entire group is clocking in rates just as high, if not higher, than what we were doing in 2021. The relentless pressures have not waned in the slightest. Things are even worse now because of the added pressures we have in our personal lives (rising rents, grocery bills, car payments, geopolitical uncertainty and distress, foreign wars, pending student loans, etc.).

At least in 2021 we were shown some appreciation in the form of special bonuses that came trickling in throughout the year. But in 2022, the firms have replaced special bonuses with fear, intimidation, and gamesmanship. We all see what these partners are doing: they are using fear to drive the associate-powered gulag. We are all concerned that they will simply pack away the cash, to ensure their own well-being, and then toss us all aside using stealth layoffs — the stench of pretense (in the form of “poor work performance”) has already started to ruminate.

For firms to continue to rake in the cash and not share it with the workforce that allows them to get rich is wrong.

Does this sound like what’s going on at your Biglaw firm? Pretty alarming if so.

We depend on your tips to stay on top of this stuff. If your firm matches summer special bonuses, please text us (646-820-8477) or email us (subject line: “[Firm Name] Special Bonuses”). On the flip side of the coin, if your firm is reducing the ranks of its lawyers or staff, whether through open layoffs, stealth layoffs, or voluntary buyouts, please don’t hesitate to let us know. You can email us (subject line: “[Firm Name] Layoffs”) or text us (646-820-8477). Please include the memo if available. Take a photo of the memo and send it via text or email if you don’t want to forward the original PDF or Word file.

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Staci ZaretskyStaci Zaretsky is a senior editor at Above the Law, where she’s worked since 2011. She’d love to hear from you, so please feel free to email her with any tips, questions, comments, or critiques. You can follow her on Twitter or connect with her on LinkedIn.

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