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July 30, 2008 5:27 PM

Laid-Off Cadwalader Attorneys May Have Tough Time Finding Work

Posted by Drew Combs

On Wednesday, Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft announced that it was laying off 96 lawyers.

A spokesperson at the firm said that it would provide the laid-off lawyers with career counseling assistance, but according to several legal recruiters, these attorneys enter a challenging job market where the standard job search may not be enough.

"It's a tough market," says Margie Grossberg, a New York-based legal recruiter at Major, Lindsey & Africa. “People will land on their feet, but it is going to take a bit of time, and people may be forced to reinvent themselves."

The layoffs, which mark the second round of attorney job cuts this year by Cadwalader, occurred in the capital market and global finance practices in New York, Charlotte, and London. These practice groups have been especially hard hit by tightening credit markets and an aversion to mortgage-backed securities.

But as a result of earlier industrywide layoffs, some of which were done in a stealth manner, there is an abundance of lawyers with this experience looking for work. And of course this occurs as the need for lawyers with these skill sets declines.

"The need for mortgage-backed securitization expertise has constricted dramatically," says Carey Bertolet, a legal recruiter at BCG Attorney Search. "There is no way every lawyer that was doing that work 18 months ago can find that work next month."

Bertolet adds, "There are so many lawyers in the market for those few positions that might draw that background."

Others firms that practice in this area, such as McKee Nelson and Sonnenschein, Nath & Rosenthal, have also trimmed their attorney head count with layoffs and buyouts in recent months. Of the 33 attorneys Cadwalader laid off earlier this year, ten have not found new positions.

Recruiters say that the key to success for recently laid-off attorneys who secured new positions was a willingness to tweak, if not totally alter, their practice focus or relocate to another city.

Even given the tough economy, law firms are plagued with high turnover in their associate ranks and, therefore, have an ever-revolving need for legal talent. Some firms have shown a willingness, according to recruiters, to hire associates with structured finance experience into their general finance and corporate practices. Those firms include Arnold & Porter, Morrison & Foerster, Hunton & Williams, and Katten Muchin Rosenman.

Junior and midlevel associates are most likely to have success moving to another practice area. Senior associates are generally viewed as more difficult to integrate into a firm, and too far along in their careers to change their practice focus.

"Sixth- and seventh-year associates and counsel are going to have a much harder time," says Jason Yuen, a legal recruiter at Alan Miles and Associates. "When you get to that stage in your career, it is really difficult to slot into another firm’s partnership track."

Laid-off associates, even the more senior ones, have had some success in relocating to another market, especially those coming from New York.

Bertolet says, "For folks who are in New York City and are being laid off, the best thing they have going for them is that partners in so many other domestic markets value New York experience."

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