Law firm laying off lawyers But Saiontz & Kirk is keeping its ads

January 30, 1996|By Mark Hyman | Mark Hyman,SUN STAFF

If you have a phone, you can still get a lawyer at Saiontz & Kirk. But you might have to hang on longer.

The Baltimore-based law firm known for its catchy slogans and omnipresent television commercials moved to cut costs by firing nearly half the associates in its Baltimore and Washington offices. Three lawyers in Saiontz & Kirk's Baltimore's office were given their notices, reducing associates there to five. The firm's Washington office is being cut from four lawyers to two.

The reductions, made last week, are the latest for Saiontz & Kirk, which in 1992 had 10 associates working in Baltimore.

Donald Saiontz, one of the firm's name partners, said the cuts are a response to the firm's increasing overhead expenses.

"I'm reducing a few staff positions, that's all," he said.

In a memo to employees, however, Mr. Saiontz pointed out that staff reductions had to occur for the firm to "stay competitive."

"This is no different than what is going on across the country in most businesses and law firms," Mr. Saiontz wrote in the memo dated Jan. 24. "As you know, we tried to avoid this as long as possible, but reality has set in that we must do this. "

The message to employees goes on to describe changes coming to automobile accident and litigation departments. It also outlines the firm's plans for "severely downsizing" its workers' compensation work, though it will continue to handle some claims.

Mr. Saiontz advises lawyers and staff who now handle those matters to be calm while the firm sorts out what will become of them.

"It is not necessary to panic," he writes in the memo.

In an interview yesterday, Mr. Saiontz repeated that his firm is coping with changes affecting many in the legal community.

"Every other law firm in the United States has downsized. I probably should have done this two or three years ago," Mr. Saiontz said.

"I'd like you to call 30 law firms, and ask how many aren't going through this. If you find one, call me. Whether it's us or Sears and Roebuck, everybody is downsizing."

Saiontz & Kirk has made a name for itself mostly through its massive advertising budget. Its commercials frequently include the tag line: "If you have a phone, you have a lawyer," a refrain that has become familiar on local TV stations. Two years ago, Saiontz & Kirk was one of 11 firms nationally -- and the only one in Baltimore -- to spend $1 million or more on television commercials, according to a survey compiled by the Television Bureau of Advertising. The law firm spent $1.07 million then.

The cost-cutting moves won't affect the firm's advertising budget, Mr. Saiontz said, adding, "I'll probably increase it, because it has been successful."

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