“Considering how supremely profitable the firm has been, the fact that they didn’t take more of a hit is disappointing,” he said. “But that’s always been CWT—a bottom-line firm.”
Still, the associate said he is not bitter, and added that Cadwalader gets more than its fair share of criticism from other firms. “The firm is a new player on the scene, in terms of prestige and partner profits, and nobody likes the nouveau riche mentality. So I think that explains the animus you sometimes see from Cravath or Simpson lawyers—they don’t want to see Cadwalader as equals.”
For the moment, though, they are not equals. Firms such as Cravath, Swaine & Moore and Simpson Thacher & Bartlett, less affected by the credit crunch, have not announced any associate layoffs.
IF YOU ARE tempted to shed a tear or two for the homeless lawyers, think twice: I spoke with a former associate at Thacher Proffitt who has actually profited from the firm’s distress.
In an effort to reduce its payroll and avert layoffs, Thacher started paying lawyers to go away. The firm offered first-year associates a four-month severance package if they left by the end of January. Some associates decided to stay put, hoping to weather the storm, but others started pounding the pavement.
The job search was not particularly difficult: “The firm basically said to us, ‘When you’re out there interviewing, blame it on Thacher.’ I really didn’t have to explain myself.”
Nor have the past few weeks been particularly demanding for Thacher Proffitt lawyers. “I would come in at 10 and leave at 4,” said the former associate. “I didn’t bill an hour in my last month—and it hasn’t been an issue. I’d enter my time under the firm administration code, with a description like ‘looking for work.’”
Finally, Thacher Proffitt is paying severance to its lawyers regardless of whether they land new jobs. Thus, ex-Thacher associates who find new employment quickly will effectively get twice the normal pay for one-third of a year. In other words, they will wind up better off than their law school classmates who went directly to more stable firms.
It’s an ironic twist, making out like a bandit because your firm is in trouble. But considering how unfamiliar layoffs are to the world of large law firms, ironies are inevitable.
“It’s been very strange, very different around the office,” said one Cadwalader lawyer who survived the layoffs. “Certainly, Thursday [the 10th] was very strange. There were lots of closed doors, avoidance of eye contact, strained conversations. A lot of vacant stares.”
Vacant stares? That sounds like par for the course in the land of Big Law. But those stares are typically caused by having too much (mind-numbing) work, not too little. Where’s Cameron Diaz when you really need her?