When a law firm wants to lay off a bunch of attorneys but doesn’t want to send a sign of weakness to clients and peer firms, it opts for a stealth layoff. With a stealth layoff, the firm pins the blame on the associates for vague “performance issues.”
It leaves associates feeling guilty over a financial move entirely out of their control. If performed appropriately stealthily, it isolates embarrassed associates from discovering through their colleagues that they aren’t alone.
Stealth layoffs are bad. And that’s why, no matter how unpleasant layoffs are, we give proper credit to firms willing to be straightforward and forthright when they part with folks.
The only challenge with a stealth layoff is building a plausible record of performance issues. When top-billing associates with glowing reviews get sideswiped by a “performance-based termination,” they tend to blow the whistle on the whole ruse.
But what if the firm invents a series of impossible benchmarks for associates to meet within an incredibly short timeframe? Yes… yes, that just might work!
According to an unconfirmed tip, one Biglaw firm is using the annual review process to implement three-month “performance improvement plans” for a number of associates with “zero notice of any performance issues the prior year.” While there’s nothing necessarily wrong about formalized professional development plans, setting a 90-day deadline to meet previously unannounced targets reads as a classic effort to set up attorneys to fail.
Given that the firm involved has a notorious history of stealth layoffs whenever the economy — or specifically, the tech sector of the economy — suffers the slightest economic hiccup, it’s hard to see this as a good faith attorney training.
We’ll be monitoring this firm closely over the next three months.
Joe Patrice is a senior editor at Above the Law and co-host of Thinking Like A Lawyer. Feel free to email any tips, questions, or comments. Follow him on Twitter if you’re interested in law, politics, and a healthy dose of college sports news. Joe also serves as a Managing Director at RPN Executive Search.
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