It has long been the case that law firms never admit to terminating lawyers for financial reasons. Many big companies, the lifeblood of large law firms, want to feel like they have a big, bad law firm working for them. If a firm doesn’t have enough business to keep its lawyers busy, that must mean companies have taken their work to other firms that are bigger and badder. At the first sign of contraction at a law firm, companies may take their business elsewhere.
To avoid this perception, law firms will go to great lengths to characterize terminations as anything other than a reduction in force. Most often they will kick an entire group of attorneys to the curb, claiming they were terminated for poor work performance. The efforts are sometimes so successful that even the remaining attorneys don’t know the truth. I once spoke to an attorney at a firm that had axed over 40 attorneys, and he was absolutely convinced that they were all terminated for work performance.
But this approach is not limited to law firms. When the economy is down, U.S. companies get very creative with their euphemisms for terminations. For some time, “downsizing” has been replaced by “rightsizing.” The latter gives the impression that the company isn’t contracting, only correcting. In a November press release, Nokia fired 9,000 employees, and referred to it as a “synergy-related headcount adjustment goal.” I’m sure the fired employees feel much better about that.
In October, eBay didn’t fire 1,600; instead it took “actions to simplify our organization.” Many companies use the terms “offboarding” and “reduction in force.” The latter term has been reduced to an acronym, as in, “What’s the RIF going to be this month?”
My personal favorite for job cuts is “surplusing”. The implication is that you are taking a paid employee, and holding him in reserve as an unpaid commodity. When things turn around, you can take him down off the shelf and put him back to work. Also good is “de-verticalization”. I’m not sure what that means, but that’s the point.
Control your own destiny. Work for yourself lest you be offboarded.