The Bay Area’s Fenwick & West laid off 36 staff yesterday, and is freezing associate salaries for the upcoming year.
But unlike other major San Francisco area law firms, such as Cooley Godward Kronish and Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati, it did not cut attorneys.
The 36 Fenwick employees who were laid off included support staff and paralegals, and account for 10% of the firm’s staff. Laid-off staff members will be getting two to six month severance packages depending on seniority.
Gordon Davidson, chairman of the nearly 300-lawyer Mountain View-based firm, said Fenwick didn’t cut attorneys because of the lessons of the dot-com boom, when the firm doubled its hiring and then was forced to cut associates in 2001.
“We over-hired in 1999 and we, like everyone, did a layoff,” Davidson said. “It’s better to have moderate growth as opposed to reacting to the twists and turns of the market.”
Davidson said the time and money spent hiring and training new lawyers out of law school makes it a bad bargain to lay off associates. The firm has been more cautious about hiring lawyers in recent years as a result.
The firm had 226 attorneys in 2003, and as of last August, counted 247 full-time equivalents. This week, the firm lists 266 attorneys on its Web site. In contrast, Cooley went from 464 attorneys in 2003 to 645 in 2008.
Idle corporate associates have been redeployed to work on litigation, Davidson said, adding that the firm is also optimistic that M&A deals will return to keep them busy.
Fenwick has reported its financial results for 2008. Revenue was up 7%, but profits per partner dipped by 2% to $995,000. Revenue per lawyer also fell 2%.