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July 7, 2009 6:26 PM

Cadwalader Offers Sabbaticals Instead of Layoffs

Posted by Rachel Breitman

As firms continue to find more creative ways to engage underutilized lawyers, Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft has created an alternative to layoffs. The firm, which was one of the first to lay off associates back in January 2008, has opted for paid sabbaticals, as reported on Above the Law Tuesday.

The firm has confirmed that it is asking 34 lawyers from the capital markets and real estate finance groups to accept a "one-year, unrestricted sabbatical."  The statement, released by the firm, did not say whether the sabbaticals were limited to associates. The move comes after a challenging 18 months, due in large part to Cadwalader's flailing capital markets practice. In May The American Lawyer reported that profits per partner for the 2008 fiscal year fell more than 30 percent.

Cadwalader lawyers will have the option of taking one-third of their salary plus medical benefits spread over the next year for an indefinite sabbatical.  During that time, the firm will try to match up lawyers with clients and not-for-profit organizations.

The move is not a completely novel idea, as firms like Alston & Bird and Foley Hoag have offered similar packages to laid off associates. Alston, which laid off a total of 20 associates in successive rounds in January and April, offered its lawyers the chance to intern with clients, community organizations, or nonprofits at a reduced salary, until the end of the year.  When Foley Hoag laid off 17 associates in January, they were offered a quarter salary to do public interest legal work for local nonprofits until the end of the year.

The one difference with Cadwalader's plan is that by calling the year-long leave a "sabbatical," the firm has left the door open to the possibility that the lawyers might return, if the work picks up in a year. Only time will tell.

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