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Are In House Counsel Immune from Lawyer Layoffs?

By Kevin Fayle | Last updated on
A number of sites are writing about Wells Fargo's partial confirmation of its plans to lay off some of its legal department.  The company said in a statement to Above the Law that the firings are a result of the Wachovia merger. 

Apparently there weren't enough chairs for everyone, and $3 billion in profit just doesn't go as far as it used to.

The question this really brings up, though, is how in house counsel at other firms are faring if Wells Fargo, one of the rare bright spots among corporations recently, is forced to layoff members of its legal department.Some of the comments to the articles above argue that corporate counsel won't be affected by the economic crisis as much as BigLaw attorneys since, as companies cut back on their legal expenses by not sending as much work to their outside counsel, they will rely on their legal departments more.

But a recent article in the National Law Journal says otherwise.  The author points out that many companies - including General Electric, Merrill Lynch and Yahoo - have already cut in house staff, and the Association of Corporate Counsel's membership has dropped, for the first time since 2003, by six percent. 

One theory proposed in the article is that companies are going so cost-cut-crazy that anyone who doesn't directly generate revenue is at risk.

Shortsighted?  Definitely.  But it might be a new reality judging by the NLJ article and Wells Fargo's announcement.
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