Market News

Few In-House Attorneys Laid Off During the Middle of COVID-19 Pandemic

By Dan Clark | October 09, 2020 at 05:47 PM


Recognizing the important role of an in-house attorney during a crisis, few organizations made cuts from their legal departments in the middle of the pandemic, according to the 2020 Law Department Compensation Policies and Practices Report published by the Association of Corporate Counsel and Empsight International on Thursday.

Between 0.5 and 1.8% of respondents to the survey said they implemented a layoff because of the pandemic and only 0.6% to 4.3% of companies have implemented a furlough in the legal department, the report states.

Veta T. Richardson, CEO of the Association of Corporate Counsel in Washington, D.C., said one of the lessons of the pandemic is that in-house counsel are essential employees.

“It is true that employment law, compliance, and environmental health and safety issues boost the demand for outside counsel, but legal departments oversee these functions and relationships,” Richardson said in an email to Corporate Counsel.

Richardson also said that layoff numbers were low because in-house attorneys can easily transition to working from home.

According to the report, 80.1% of organizations have implemented full-time work-from-home programs because of COVID-19. Approximately 15% of legal departments plan on having employees work from home full time and 29.3% of organizations said they will continue to have employees work from home on a part-time basis.

Further emphasizing the importance of the in-house attorney during a crisis, 70% to 78% of organizations said their hiring strategies did not change because of the pandemic. Only 16% to 18% of organizations have implemented hiring freezes throughout the legal department because of COVID-19. The report further notes that job offers are not being rescinded because of the pandemic.

“With the types of regulatory challenges and increasing types of risk, companies must steer through the pandemic and more. The contributions of in-house counsel, those strategies have never been more important,” Richardson said.

Reduced Pay

The survey also tracked compensation during the pandemic. Only a minority of respondents answered the questions about how COVID-19 impacted pay. Thirty-three percent, of only 87 that responded to the question, indicated that their organizations implemented salary reductions during the pandemic. Approximately 9% of respondents said their organizations implemented salary freezes during the pandemic.

Jeremy Feinstein, managing director of Empsight International in New York, said his organization does not have extensive data on salary reduction or their reversals. He said after the survey was released, he began to hear more about salary reductions and plans on asking more about it in an upcoming spot survey.

“Some of our HR clients tell us they are thinking about reducing their use of geographic differentials since many people are working from home and not in a high-cost urban center,” Feinstein said.

The survey reached a total of 608 organizations and data was collected between May and July of this year. Not every respondent answered every question in the survey.