20 July 2020

Freeths announces potential redundancies with 80 jobs expected to go

Nottingham main market square

Nottingham city centre

Job losses for regional firm part of 'significant realignment' to address 'over-capacity'

Top 50 UK law firm Freeths has announced a consultation on possible redundancies, with 80 roles expected to be cut as the firm braces for the prospect of a weak economic recovery amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

The regional firm, with 13 offices across the country in cities including Nottingham, Bristol, Manchester, Liverpool and London, said the cuts were necessary as a result of what it called over-capacity, despite reporting turnover of £100m in the last financial year. The cuts will be split evenly between fee-earners and support staff.

Colin Flanagan, chairman of Freeths, said in a staff email: “It is a matter of huge regret that we are faced with some contraction in our work for the first time since the financial crisis, and that we find ourselves needing to reduce our staff numbers,” adding the action was in the best interests of the business. 

Further consultations would take place, he said. The firm aims to mitigate the impact of any redundancies by looking at paid sabbaticals and reduced hours to limit the number of any future leavers.

Freeths had previously suspended distributions due in April, and reduced drawings, while also agreeing temporary salary cuts and a 30% salary reduction for board members. More than 100 staff members were furloughed, with future bonuses deferred to preserve jobs. It is not known if any partners will be part of the redundancy scheme.

The announcement comes as other law firms have announced layoffs following the economic consequences of the coronavirus. Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner reported plans to cut up to 40 London staff and close an office in China. 

Top 25 UK law firm DWF has also embarked on a UK redundancy programme among support staff as part of a cost-cutting programme designed to save £15m in the current financial year, with as many as 18 central services roles at risk.

DWF also announced plans to close its Brussels and Singapore arms following a review of its global footprint that will see 60 jobs axed, including 13 partner exits.

Revenues generated by the UK legal industry also dropped to a four-year low, according to the Office for National Statistics, which fell 12% in May to £2.35bn.

The figures were more than double the 5.5% fall in revenues of £3.3bn recorded in April 2020, and closer to the 20% decline that several law firms, including Norton Rose Fulbright, anticipated in their Covid-19 temporary work reduction measures.

The Bar Council, meanwhile, reported at the end of June that 75% of chambers have seen their court work reduced by more than half since the start of the pandemic. Nearly all sets (99%) had seen a considerable reduction in work. Some 29% of chambers said it is unlikely they will survive more than 3-6 months, while 58% said they would not last 6-12 months.

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