Wake Up Call: Schiff Hardin Slashes Pay Up to 50% for Some Practice Areas

April 17, 2020, 12:49 PM

In today’s column, at least 19 big and midsize law firms announced cost-cut moves in the last week, as they focus on surviving the Covid-19 crisis; Norton Rose; Hogan Lovells; Dentons; and K&L Gates announced new pay cuts; Reed Smith raised eyebrows by announcing bigger pay cuts for associates than for counsel; Freshfields said it’s still in the market for U.S. talent; and class action lawyers predict Covid-19 will spark an “explosion” of worker lawsuits.

  • Leading off, Schiff Hardin announced temporary pay cuts of 15% for most lawyers and staffers earning over $100,000 per year. But about 6% of the Chicago-based firm’s attorneys, in certain practice areas, will temporarily see 50% of their pay disappear because of the virus, in the biggest associate pay cuts yet. Schiff is also laying off a small number of staff, according to reports. (American Lawyer)

  • ABA Journal counts at least 19 big and midsize firms that have cut salaries, reduced partner compensation, and furloughed or laid off employees. (ABAJournal.com)

  • Norton Rose Fulbright, which had close to $2 billion 2019 revenues, announced temporary 15% salary cuts for U.S. staff making over $50,000. It’s also making some layoffs, but declined to give details. The firm, which last week said it’s moving to a four-day workweek for staff in Europe, Middle East and Asia, has not changed its summer associate program or said it will stop hiring. (Above the Law)

  • The U.S. branch of mega firm Dentons, which already said it’s delaying some bonus payouts, said it’s temporarily cutting partner draws at least 20%. It will cut pay for employees making over $60,000, with cuts ranging from around 1% up to 20% for employees earning above $190,000. It promised a bonus mechanism for high performers to recover their lost earnings, depending on how the firm does. (Above the Law)

  • After adjusting its summer associates program and delaying partner profit distributions, another billion dollar firm, Reed Smith, said it’s temporarily cutting counsel pay by 10% and associates’ pay by 15%. That discrepancy caused some consternation. Hogan Lovells reduced its summer associate program from 10 weeks to four, and it delayed partner distributions, as well as salary reviews and bonuses for non-partner lawyers. It’s furloughing up to 30 U.K. employees, a report says. (The Lawyer) K&L Gates and Fragomen also announced cuts. (American Lawyer)

  • U.K.-founded Freshfields said it’s rescheduling its U.S. summer associate program to run from mid-June through August, and will offer both virtual and in-person experiences. It said it’s maintaining its compensation commitment to program participants. It also plans to welcome a full new class of fall 2020 first-year associates, after they complete the postponed bar exam, and it plans to keep making lateral hires. (Freshfields)

  • Class action lawyers predict a huge explosion of employee litigation targeting unsafe working conditions, layoffs, and other matters stemming from the Covid-19 crisis. (Law.com)

  • Baker Botts put out a digital guide to state and federal Covid-19 resources aimed at individuals, including such subjects as health insurance coverage for Covid-19 testing, utility assistance, Medicaid, shelter-in-place rules, student loans, and others. (BakerBotts.com)

Lawyers, Law Firms

  • Chicago-based plaintiffs boutique Edelson PC said it has donated more than $119,000 to local businesses that are fighting the Covid-19 pandemic, and has pledged to donate $250,000 in total. (American Lawyer)

  • Thanks to the pandemic, President Donald Trump’s former lawyer and longtime fixer Michael Cohen is getting out of federal prison to serve the remainder of his sentence in home confinement. (Associated Press via Politico)

  • Skadden Arps got criticized by civil rights advocate Reverend Al Sharpton over what he said was a lack of minority representation in the firm’s recently announced partner class. (BLAW)

  • The former CEO of litigation funding company Oasis Legal Finance Operating Co. misused the company’s trademarks by branding his new ventures with “Oasis” after being fired, a Chicago federal court said. (BLAW)

  • Pierce Bainbridge Beck Price & Hecht managing partner John Pierce said the firm, which has been hit by lawsuits and a wave of partner exits, has laid off associates but is still in business. (American Lawyer)

  • Big Law firms Jenner & Block; Miller & Chevalier; Arnold & Porter Kaye Scholer; and Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe have filed amicus briefs supporting the U.S. House’s lawsuit seeking to compel testimony from former White House counsel Don McGahn. (National Law Journal)

  • Lowenstein Sandler lawyers logged over 23,000 hours of pro bono work last year, on cases including immigration, civil and human rights, and criminal justice, among other matters, according to the firm’s 2019 pro bono report. (Lowensteinprobonoreport.com)

  • A petition signed by around 30 Nobel Prize laureates from around the world urges the release of controversial environmental lawyer Steven Donziger from pre-trial house arrest. Donziger won a multibillion-dollar environmental judgment in Ecuador against Chevron in 2009, but his legal fight with the energy giant has since gotten him disbarred in the U.S., his bank accounts frozen, and house arrest in New York. (Courthouse News Service) (The Nation)

Laterals, Moves

  • Akerman’s Chicago office added two partners. Real estate finance lawyer Joel Sestito joins from Quarles & Brady. IP litigator Kevin Shortsle joins from Morgan, Lewis & Bockius. (Akerman.com)

  • Winston & Strawn’s London office added Reed Smith leveraged and acquisition finance lawyer Monica Barton as a partner. She’s the third finance partner to leave Reed Smith in about a month. (Law.com International)

  • The former chair of Lathrop Gage’s intellectual property prosecution & transactions, Justin Poplin, left with two other IP litigators from that firm to launch Kansas City-based IP boutique Avant Law Group. (Kansas City Business)

  • Alternative dispute resolution services provider JAMS added retired Illinois federal magistrate judge Donald G. Wilkerson, also a former Missouri federal prosecutor, to its St. Louis panel. JAMS also added retired Washington State supreme court justice and Kings County superior court judge Faith Ireland to its panel in Seattle. She’s also spent 15 years as a private arbitrator and mediator. (JAMSadr.com)


  • New York state’s appellate First Department is going virtual and will restart many operations, including arguments via Skype and electronic calendaring. (New York Law Journal)

  • As traditional firms cut pay and reduce staff, opportunities could be growing for virtual law firms. (Legaltech News)

  • Alternative legal services will also likely gain, as legal buyers shrink the amount of work they send to traditional firms, according to Axiom executive VP and global head of commercial, David Pierce. (Corporate Counsel)

To contact the correspondent on this story: Rick Mitchell in Paris at rMitchell@correspondent.bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Rebekah Mintzer at rmintzer@bloomberglaw.com; Darren Bowman at dbowman@bloomberglaw.com

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