Valley hit hardest as US firms slash staff

Cutbacks have hit US lawyers as firms slash numbers to counter the corporate slump. Hardest hit have been West Coast firms focused on the ailing technology market.

“We just didn’t have enough work to keep our lawyers busy” – Edward Wes, Perkins Cole

The Silicon Valley office of Seattle-based Perkins Coie has made seven lawyers redundant, citing lack of work as the reason. The figure accounts for just 1 per cent of the firm’s total lawyers, but is a more substantial 13 per cent of the Silicon Valley workforce.

Perkins Coie managing partner for the Bay Area Edward Wes said: “There’s been a terrible decline in work due to the technology recession and 11 September – we just didn’t have enough work to keep our lawyers busy.”

Although most prominent among West Coast firms, layoffs have not been confined to this area. The trend has moved east, and New York offices have witnessed some reductions in staff numbers.

In November, Pillsbury Winthrop followed Shearman & Sterling‘s lead by axing 10 per cent of its New York associates. Pillsbury Winthrop is a 900-lawyer pan-US entity formed last year from the merger of West Coast firm Pillsbury Madison & Sutro and New York’s Winthrop Stimson Putnam & Roberts. In a memo to the firm, New York managing partner Donald Kilpatrick blamed the cuts on the economy.

Layoffs across the US show no real signs of abating. Since August, Cooley Godward, Fenwick & West, Venture Law Group, Gunderson Dettmer Stough Villeneuve Franklin & Hachigian, Shearman & Sterling and now Perkins Coie and Pillsbury Winthrop have all cut back on staff.