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Elite law firm Boies Schiller just cut associates and support staff following a partner exodus

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  • Law firm Boies Schiller Flexner has issued termination notices to staff members throughout California and New York after seeing a wave of partners exit.
  • Employees affected range from paralegals to legal assistants and associates, according to seven sources who spoke with Business Insider on the condition of anonymity. 
  • The overall number of people affected could not be determined, but a cumulative tally places the headcount figure in the low double-digits between New York and California. 
  • The cuts come as Boies Schiller has announced a restructuring throughout the firm and experiences a wave of partner departures. 
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Litigation powerhouse Boies Schiller Flexner has issued termination notices to staff members in California and Armonk, New York, as its leaders push forward with a firm-wide restructuring plan, Business Insider has learned. 

Five people familiar with the matter said letters of termination were issued throughout Boies Schiller's Los Angeles office after management informed them via Zoom conference last week that a group of partners were moving to King & Spalding.

Subsequently, associates and staff including administrative assistants received letters of termination of employment, according to these people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly. 

The termination letter, signed by BSF director of human resources Cynthia M. Schuler, referred to the group of partners who were leaving BSF April 30 to join King & Spalding.

The partners had previously joined BSF from Caldwell Leslie through a 2017 merger. 

"Following these departures, the Firm will continue to have responsibility for the lease of the [downtown Los Angeles] office space, which was assumed when the former partners of Caldwell Leslie joined the Firm several years ago," the letter said. 

"Now that those same partners have decided to leave the Firm for K&S, however, the Firm does not have a need for staffing at current levels and believes it is appropriate that those same partners take responsibility for their associates and staff, almost all of whom were formerly associated with Caldwell Leslie," it said. 

In Armonk, New York, a handful of staff members including legal assistants were notified that they were being laid off earlier this month, according to two people familiar with the matter. 

The overall number of people affected by the terminations could not be determined, but the cumulative tally of what sources told Business Insider brings the headcount figure into the low double-digits between New York and California. 

Nick Gravante, co-managing partner of BSF, issued a statement to Business Insider that cited the partner departures as driving the layoffs. 

He said that after the firm declined to extend pay guarantees to BSF partners who joined the firm from Caldwell Leslie, it parted ways with a number of BSF partners in California, "almost all of whom were from the former Caldwell Leslie firm."

"Notwithstanding that their departures were expected, they made the decision to leave on short notice during a global pandemic," he said.

"They made the decision to suddenly thrust all of their former associates and staff on us. That's not the way the world works."

He said that today was the departing partners' last day and that "we clearly don't need, nor is it fair for us to bear the expense of, all of their former associates and staff."

He said the same was true in Armonk — that the firm had parted ways with partners and counsel there as well. 

"We don't want or need support staff sitting around doing nothing," he said. "The restructuring is moving forward full speed ahead. We have not and will not lay anyone off because of the COVID virus. But we are also not going to suspend the restructuring because of the pandemic."

Reached on Thursday, one of the top departing partners, David Willingham, who is joining King & Spalding, declined to comment. Senior partners in King & Spalding's Los Angeles office could not be reached for comment. 

The news of terminations was unsettling for those who received notices, especially given the timing, as the coronavirus pandemic has prompted employers to freeze hiring, conduct layoffs, or apply for emergency loans to help businesses stay afloat. 

Throughout Big Law, many large law firms have tried to avoid laying off staff members outright, reverting to pay cuts for partners and staff instead.

But some, like the Boston-based law firm of Goodwin Procter, have carried them out anyway, even as partners there have earned well into the millions. 

At Boies Schiller, partners reportedly earn on average more than $3 million a year, according to recent figures in The American Lawyer. 

Lately, though, the firm has been experiencing partner departures following what insiders have characterized as disagreements over a strategic plan about the future of the firm, as leaders contemplate life after David Boies, its star trial attorney, who is 79.

Among the issues discussed has been changing the firm's compensation model, with some attorneys having wanted more of a reward for young partners who bring in new cases and work on existing ones, sources said. 

Even before the group of 15 partners submitted their resignations for King & Spalding, the firm had seen partners depart for Jenner & Block, Cooley, Willkie Farr, and Covington & Burling.

Others left to start their own firms, including Roche Cyrulnik Freedman in New York and Heise Suarez Melville in Florida.

Gravante, the co-managing partner, said the firm's restructuring would continue, though indicated that BSF would not lay anyone off because of the coronavirus. 

"But," he said, "we are also not going to suspend the restructuring because of the pandemic."

Goodwin, which declined to specify how many people were affected, offered outgoing employees benefits for an extended period of time.

"We are providing severance packages, based on tenure, to impacted employees," a spokesman told Business Insider at the time, earlier in April.

"In addition, we will make continued contribution to healthcare benefits through September 30, 2020 for all affected personnel."

SEE ALSO: The inside story behind a 15-partner exodus at elite law firm Boies Schiller

SEE ALSO: Major law firms are weighing pay cuts for partners against unseemly staff layoffs as billings plunge

SEE ALSO: Law firms are pulling the trigger on pay cuts and layoffs — and they're already rethinking tech, office space, and recruiting for the long term

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