Firm Punts Picnic, Dance to Avoid Job Cuts

By Staff Report

Apr. 10, 2009

Chicago law firm Schiff Hardin said it would cut costs with an early retirement program and other moves, including canceling the company picnic and holiday parties.

The actions are designed to avoid the kind of mass layoffs rippling through the legal industry, said managing partner Ronald Safer.

“We’re not going to do that,” he promised. But in a memo to colleagues, he noted: “As always, we will critically assess the performances of everyone at the firm—partners, associates and staff—as part of our commitment to professional excellence.”

And Schiff will adopt a cost-cutting measure gaining momentum at law firms hit by the recession: It plans to delay until January 1 the start date for this year’s entering crop of law school graduates.

Safer wouldn’t quantify the overall amount of projected savings.

The 375-lawyer firm, whose revenue fell slightly last year, will require all attorneys to bear the full cost of health and disability insurance coverage—part of an effort to spread the pain that at other firms is focused on junior attorneys losing their jobs, Safer said.

“It may sound trite, but we have a consensus. … It’s the [equity partners] who are going to take responsibility for it,” he said. In his memo, Safer said retirement incentives would be offered to non-attorney staff members who turn 60 before July 1.

The firm also will cancel its “attorney dinner dance” this year and replace the equity partners’ retreat with a business meeting in Chicago. Summer associates, or interns, also will feel the pain. Schiff said this year’s program would be shortened to eight from 12 weeks and be more “content focused.”

Filed by Steven R. Strahler of Crain’s Chicago Business, a sister publication of Workforce Management. To comment, e-mail

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