Byte of Prevention Blog

LeClair Firm Sees Mass Exodus

The good times have been rolling at many large law firms, with record revenues and unprecedented growth. But at some firms, the news is considerably less rosy.

Take the Richmond-based LeClair Ryan, for instance.

Not long ago, the firm was booming. But in recent years it has lost almost half its legal workforce in just a few years, shrinking from a high of 350 lawyers to less than 200 today. Among the departures: co-founder and longtime CEO Gary LeClair, who jumped ship in July to join crosstown rival Williams Mullen.

Firm leaders told Richmond BizSense that it’s “business as usual” despite the losses. But other sources suggest the firm “might be in a death spiral” and that staff members have been told to seek other jobs.

In other BigLaw news: one innovative firm has launched a program to help associates who want out of private practice transition to in-house positions with clients. The goal is to create win-win-win situations and lasting relationships for the firm, the associates, and the clients.

Losses at LeClair Ryan

The grim news from LeClair did not come completely out of the blue. Storm clouds have been gathering at the firm, which was founded in 1988, for some time.

“We’ve reported on this extensively in the past, what with the firm losing almost 10 percent of its headcount in 2018 due to lateral moves, and partners are continuing to depart for greener pastures in 2019,” writes Kathryn Rubino for Above the Law. “Indeed, it’s been reported that at the end of 2015 the firm had 156 equity partners, but by June of 2019, that number was down to 45.”

Last year, LeClair made headlines when it moved more than 300 nonlawyer employees to ULX Partners, which the firm created in a joint venture with alternative service provider UnitedLex. The employees were then leased back to LeClairRyan.

According to Above the Law, the unconventional arrangement might not have worked out exactly as planned, adding to LeClair’s woes.

Going In House

What do you do when a valued associate wants out of private practice in favor of an in-house corporate position?

One option it so wave farewell and begin recruiting a replacement. But that means you’ll have nothing to show for all the time and money you spent on training and development.

That’s why Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe, with more than 1,000 attorneys in two dozen offices worldwide, has devised an innovative plan to actively assist associates looking for a career change.

“The firm recognizes that some associates fare better within the firm, while others prefer to join external organizations or client companies,” according to this source. “The new program acknowledges that some associates prefer to eventually leave the firm to pursue in-house opportunities with clients. The program also features advice from firm alumni who have departed to take on positions at startups, financial institutions, and government organizations, among others.”

In conjunction with the transition program, the firm’s Chief innovation officer Wendy Butler Curtis is conducting a stem-to-stern examination of how the firm works with talent and delivers legal services.

The new initiative is one reason Orrick has earned a reputation as one of the world’s most innovative firms.

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