Yesterday, we reported that Reed Smith fired multiple associates across multiple offices over alleged “billing errors” on a months-long document review. According to reports, most if not all of the firings were conducted over teleconference and the impacted associates were offered no severance. When contacted, the firm said that it would not comment on the story.
Even giving the firm every benefit of the doubt, the response seemed inappropriate.
The project ran from August to October and by all accounts, attorneys were encouraged to pull out all stops. According to our tips, the associates were never approached by managers or given any indication that there was anything wrong with their billing until the moment they were fired almost three months after the project ended. One would think that over those three months, someone with authority would write off some time — ideally before blindly sending out the bills — and counsel the attorneys on what to do going forward before firing people “for cause.”
Just how ruthless were these firings? After publishing yesterday’s story, we received a new tip that at least two of the terminated associates are currently pregnant and were denied maternity leave and had their health care discontinued.
We also now hear that some of the “lucky” attorneys on the project who did not get fired were told that they will not be advanced and their compensation has been reduced. What manner of toxic hell was this document review?
The more sweeping this story gets, the less defensible the response. A sole associate padding bills is one thing. As a boss, I probably wouldn’t fire them without intervening at least once and telling them how to properly bill, but there’s at least an argument for firing them outright.
But when multiple people in different offices get in trouble for the same thing, then the problem rests higher on the food chain. Given the scale of the punishments in this matter, potentially stretching to the attorneys who didn’t even get fired, this clearly isn’t a lone wolf operation. Whatever the associates did in the eyes of the firm — and the firm isn’t sharing its side of this story — is something the team was either instructed to do or thought they had been instructed to do. Either way, it’s a management problem before it’s a foot soldier problem.
And that’s the thing… firing associates for following faulty orders is one thing. Maybe a firm feels they should have known better than to follow. But the firm took this up a notch. Tell people they have to leave in six months and sign an NDA if you’re trying to cover up some systemic leadership mistake. Firing people “for cause” is a choice. Firing attorneys without severance is a choice. Firing pregnant lawyers and cutting off their health care is a choice.
And they’re all choices that get harder to justify if the fault appears to rest at a higher pay grade.
Earlier: Biglaw Firm Fires Multiple Attorneys Without Warning Over Zoom
Joe Patrice is a senior editor at Above the Law and co-host of Thinking Like A Lawyer. Feel free to email any tips, questions, or comments. Follow him on Twitter if you’re interested in law, politics, and a healthy dose of college sports news.