The US legal sector suffered 1,500 job losses in March this year, according to Bureau of Labor statistics released by the Department of Labor. This figure correlates with the general downward trend that has been evident since the beginning of 2017, with government statistics suggesting that a total of 4,000 jobs went in the first three months of the year.
The total number of seasonally-adjusted jobs in the US legal market is currently recorded as 1,121,800, with job numbers remaining at around this level since 2013. This compares unfavourably with 2007, when employment figures were 50,000 higher.
With the current reported head count losses, there is certainly nothing to suggest that the legal job market in the US will be staging any sort of recovery any time soon; indeed, concerns are likely to focus on whether further job losses are to follow.
There is no direct correlation between trends in the US legal job market and those in the UK; however, some of the firms that have laid off staff in the US also have UK operations, whose staff may well be wondering what lies in store for them.
K&L Gates has reportedly dismissed staff from at least four of its US offices. It is not known whether lawyers were among those directly affected; however, anonymous reports suggest that unspecified numbers of paralegals, secretaries and IT professionals were laid off and received severance payments equating to a fortnight for each year of their employment.
Careful followers of the legal press may already have noticed that some firms with operations on both sides of the Atlantic have dismissed staff in the UK but not in the US. In 2016, DLA Piper, for example, followed a trend that has been increasingly evident in the UK over the last few years and restructured its support staff operation. While other firms, such as Freshfields, chose to move elements of their support staff to non-London UK locations, DLA Piper relocated most of its affected positions to Warsaw.
DLA Piper’s management explained that the relocations were a necessary result of its rapid expansion over the preceding years and confirmed that it had no plans to conduct a similar exercise in the US. It remains to be seen exactly how reassuring its US support staff find this statement in light of the recent job losses across the entire US legal sector.
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