MoFo Cuts 4% Of US Staff Positions, Citing COVID-19

By Justin Wise
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Law360 (February 1, 2021, 4:41 PM EST) -- Morrison & Foerster eliminated 4% of its U.S. staff positions following a review of how the coronavirus pandemic has affected the way the firm operates, a spokesperson told Law360 on Monday.

The firm is also following a redundancy consultation process in the U.K., with a handful of staff roles at risk of being cut. In total, 38 positions in the U.S. and U.K. were or are at risk of being cut because of the review.

"We have not taken this painful decision lightly, but felt it was necessary to address the evolving nature of our work, and to position the firm for continued strength and success," the spokesperson told Law360.

Morrison & Foerster said it became "obvious" that fundamental changes to its operations would outlast COVID-19 and that it needed to plan for long-term changes to how it supports its practices and offices. It did not disclose any downsizing plans for its eight U.S. offices. 

The U.S. employees affected by the layoffs will be eligible for severance pay and health care benefits, the firm said. 

The layoffs follow a year where the legal industry generally withstood the most harmful effects of the health crisis, as many BigLaw firms reported strong cash flow and are reversing austerity measures they instituted last spring. 

Despite shedding more than 60,000 jobs last spring, the sector saw steady gains in employment throughout the latter half of 2020. 

But the rapid shift to remote work has led to several reorganization plans, with one result being layoffs continuing into 2021. Norton Rose Fulbright in January announced it was cutting 132 jobs across Europe, the Middle East and Asia as it restructured into what it called a "more efficient structure."

Baker Botts LLP in October laid off about 50 staff positions, citing the "fundamental workplace shift" triggered by the pandemic. Winston & Strawn LLP in September cut an undisclosed number of staff positions to address the "evolving work practice" caused by the rapid shift to remote operations.

Other firms that instituted layoffs in the fall include Hogan Lovells and Baker McKenzie.

Industry experts say reorganizations could accelerate in 2021, as firm leaders examine how they can remain competitive. David Barnard, a founding partner of law firm management consultancy Blaqwell, told Law360 last month that efforts to increase profitability could lead to pushing out lower-billing partners and reducing staff headcounts. 

--Additional reporting by Aebra Coe, Emily Lever. Editing by Adam LoBelia.

UPDATE: This story has been updated with additional information about law firm reorganizations resulting from the pandemic.

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