As legal recruiters, we are starting to see play out something that happens during every economic slowdown:

  • Firms start to see a drop in hours within certain practice groups (usually corporate), while other groups are still busy (and often have lateral associate needs).
  • Firm leadership becomes concerned about the low-hour associates.
  • Discussions ensue internally regarding the options for these low-hour associates.

When it comes to what to do about the low-hour associates, firms typically focus on three areas:

  • Consideration of overt layoffs—never good.
  • Consideration of stealth layoffs—never good, either, but bypasses the immediate risk of bad press if it’s “stealth enough.”
  • Repurposing associates into very busy practice groups that have needs for support. Often, these same groups may also be simultaneously looking for lateral associates, and sometimes firm management may ask these busy groups to put external searches on pause while they attempt to fill the searches internally.